Without live sports to showcase, analyze and endlessly promote, ESPN has resorted to televising and streaming documentaries and classic games from the past. On the heels of its success (5.6 million viewers per episode) with the Michael Jordan-themed documentary ‘The Last Dance,” the Disney-owned sports network is hoping to come close with new “30 for 30” doc “LANCE,” as in disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
ESPN says the two-part series (May 24/31) showcases the story of the cyclist’s rise out of Texas as a young superstar cyclist; his harrowing battle with testicular cancer; his recovery and emergence as a global icon with his seven consecutive Tour de France titles; and then his massive fall after he was exposed in one of the largest doping scandals in history.
While all true, the series more importantly reveals just how angry Armstrong remains seven years after his spectacular fall from grace following admission of systemic use of performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey, the subsequent vacating of his record seven Tour titles by French officials, and loss of tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals.
With filters removed per his and doc director Marina Zenovich’s request, Armstrong, 49, quips and disses on everyone from his mother’s parenting, stepfather’s discipline, antidoping officials who pursued him and disloyal former teammates — except himself.
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The Plano, Texas, native remains controversial largely due to his outsized ego and competitive drive to excel in a sport historically dominated by Europeans — and in the process sell lots of bikes, kits, books and yellow fighting-cancer Livestrong wrist bands to corporate America and weekend warriors who might otherwise have swung a golf club, tennis racket or gone jogging.
“Lance’s fans pay retail,” said one bike shop owner.
The Texan’s current podcasts — The MOVE (about bike racing) and The Forward Podcast — the latter showcasing eclectic subjects fielding questions from Armstrong — underscore his singular talent to engage people with charm and swagger.
A glimpse into Armstrong’s cunning is revealed early (age 16) when he bends the rules to enter his first triathlon: “Forge the certificate, compete illegally, and beat everybody,” he brags.
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Armstrong isn’t remorseful about cheating (“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says), he’s angry he came out of retirement (for more glory) and got legally outmaneuvered by government investigators in the process. For years, Armstrong and his team of high-paid lawyers had threatened and harassed anyone who suggested his story wasn’t actually about beating testicular cancer and becoming an iconic champion through grit and hard work.
Ironically, a few years after the Winfrey mea culpa, Armstrong found himself being booed in an Austin, Texas, restaurant.
“Some people just can’t chill the fuck out,” he said. “They’re pissed still, and they’ll be pissed forever.”