In 2001 I was in France during the Tour de France and followed it closely on TV marvelling at the American Lance Armstrong and barracking for Australian Stuart O’Grady in the sprint section.
Armstrong won, of course, and O’Grady was second to German Erik Zabel in their category.
Turns out Armstrong was on a sophisticated program involving the banned human growth hormone EPO, blood transfusions and steroids – he is no longer recorded as the winner of the 2001 Tour or the other six he won. O’Grady and Zabel have since confessed to dabbling in EPO too.
I could never warm to the Tour – the undercurrent of drugs seemed too strong – but I always hoped Armstrong was clean. In 2007 I listened to almost every episode of a reading of his book It’s Not About the Bike on Radio National, particularly fascinated by his fight with cancer. At about that time the book was on the reading list for Year 11 or 12 English in WA. An inspiring story.
Turns out the chemotherapy Armstrong underwent helped in two ways. It knocked out the cancer and changed his body shape making him less bulky and a better candidate for a program of performance enhancing drugs.
Stephen Frears’ biopic The Program does a serviceable job of telling the Armstrong story but I got the feeling the level of cheating was just too big…. he won the bloody thing seven times! Ben Foster is a dead ringer for Armstrong and Chris O’Dowd is good as the real hero Irish journalist David Walsh.