Lance Armstrong: Winner, Survivor, Cheat…


He is the world’s most famous cyclist, dominating his sport like no one before or since. Yet his reputation has been forever tarnished by a scandal that tore at the very fabric of professional cycling, pitting the sports elite against each other.

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Lance Armstrong
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He is the world’s most famous cyclist, dominating his sport like no one before or since.
00:06
Yet his reputation has been forever tarnished by a scandal that tore at the very fabric
00:12
of professional cycling, pitting the sports elite against each other.
00:17
The doping scandal, however, was just one in a series of mountain-like obstacles that
00:22
have confronted Lance Armstrong.
00:25
The story of how he has overcome them is an inspirational story of perseverance, tenacity
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and self-belief.
00:29
In this week’s Biographics, we explore the tumultuous life of Lance Armstrong.
00:39
The Formative Years
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Lance Edward Armstrong was born as Lance Gunderson in Plano, Texas on September 18, 1971.
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His mother, Linda, was just seventeen and a high school dropout, while his biological
01:01
father, Eddie Gunderson, was a route manager for The Dallas Morning News.
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The marriage was an unhappy one, with Eddie proving to be abusive and neglectful.
01:12
They divorced when Lance was two years old.
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Before long, Linda had remarried.
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Lance’s step-father was a travelling salesman named Terry Armstrong.
01:20
Armstrong was a stern, distant man who never really bonded with Lance during his formative
01:25
years.
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Terry’s job kept him away from the home a lot.
01:29
When he was home, he proved to be a harsh disciplinarian who would beat Lance with a
01:33
paddle for any incursion.
01:35
Not surprisingly, the boy looked forward to his step-father’s work trips, when it was
01:40
just he and his mother at home.
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As the years progressed, the family’s finances improved and they moved to better neighborhoods.
01:46
They ended up in Richardson, where Linda signed up young Lance for swimming lessons.
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She also bought him a bicycle.
01:53
Young Lance was an active, inquisitive child.
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He often got into fights, with one scuffle getting him kicked off the school bus, after
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which he rode his bicycle to school.
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He had a love of competitive sports, though he never clicked with football, the dominant
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sport in Texas.
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Instead, he became passionate about running and swimming.
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Young Lance had an abundance of energy.
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His favorite TV show was The Six Million Dollar Man, and he loved nothing better than to run
02:20
around the neighbourhood pretending to be the bionic man as he chanted the words of
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the show’s theme song . . . ‘better, stronger, faster.’
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From Richardson, the Armstrong’s moved to Plano, Texas, where Linda’s new job as a
02:33
telecommunications company secretary enabled them to buy their first house.
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It was here that they lived through the bulk of Lance’s schooling.
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He attended the Armstrong Middle School, Williams High and Plano East High.
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Linda bought her son his first serious bike when he was seven.
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It was a Schwinn Mag Scrambler BMX racing bike.
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The bike, along with a helmet and safety gear, cost three times more than Linda was hoping
02:56
to spend, but she saw the value in getting her son involved in an outdoor sport.
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Lance rode his Scrambler until he was 13, when his mother bought him a Mercier road
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bike.
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Lance’s competitive career began at age twelve when he competed in the Plano Swim
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Club Champs.
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He achieved some success, but a year in he saw a poster for a triathlon and decided to
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switch to the three-discipline event.
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His first triathlon was the Iron Kids, which he won handily.
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With his step-father often absent from the home, Lance lacked a strong male role model
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during his formative years.
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That role was filled in his early teens by Chris MacCurdy, his Plano swimming coach.
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MacCurdy trained Armstrong right through Middle School and High School and encouraged him
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to compete on a national level and even to set his sights on the Olympics.
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Another man who took an interest in the teenage Lance was the owner of the local bike shop,
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Jim Hoyt.
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He gave the Armstrong’s discounts on equipment and Lance managed to earn some money riding
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for events that were sponsored by Hoyt.
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When he was 14, Lance competed and won his first duathlon, consisting of swimming and
04:04
running.
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The prize was a one-hundred-dollar pair of Avia running shoes.
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However, when the shoes arrived in the mail, they didn’t fit.
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The sales rep who came to the Armstrong home with a replacement pair, Scott Eder, ended
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up taking Lance under his wing and taking him to workouts and competitions.
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Eder took Lance to the Cooper Institute in Dallas when the boy was 16.
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The researchers there tested his V02 Max, which came out at 79.5 percent.
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It was the highest they had ever seen.
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This meant that Lance had an incredible ability to make use of every breath of oxygen that
04:37
came into his body.
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The testing also showed that he had the highest lactic acid threshold they had ever come across.
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Through his formative years, Lance had found a knack for getting himself into trouble.
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He and his mates would sneak into neighbor’s houses and steal beer from the fridge.
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On one occasion he and another boy glued the mailbox of a man who they had argued with.
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The police came calling when he stole an ‘Armstrong Street’ sign as an ornament for his room.
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When he was sixteen, however, his mother told him that she was planning on leaving his stepfather.
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She urged Lance to stop getting into trouble as she wouldn’t be able to handle to stress
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that it would bring.
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Lance responded, channelling all of his energy into his sporting events.
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Creating an Athlete
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Lance and Linda now spent most weekends together, travelling to 10k running events and triathlons
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that he competed in.
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During the week, Lance spent many hours going on long rides with his cycling buddies.
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Linda helped her son to seek out sponsors who would supply such things as shoes and
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jerseys.
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Every single sponsor received a handwritten letter of thanks from Lance.
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There are four competitive cycling categories.
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All riders start out at Cat Four.
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For Lance this meant Tuesday night criterion rides at the local Bike Mart.
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It wasn’t long before he moved up to Cat Three, where he found himself training with
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a couple of Cat One guys.
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When he was sixteen, Lance was riding his Mercier racing bike along the Dallas countryside
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when he was apparently run off the road by a truck driver.
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A furious Lance, cursed at the driver from the asphalt.
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This caused the man to see red, and he stopped his truck and got out in a rage.
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Lance jumped to his feet and took off, but the man trashed his bike.
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Before he left, Lance managed to record his number plate.
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Linda proceeded to sue the man and win.
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She used the money to buy her son a new Raleigh bike with racing wheels.
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Lance’s new bike didn’t last for long.
06:32
Not long after receiving it, he was hit by an SUV while running a yellow light.
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He was thrown over the handlebars and onto the hood of the SUV.
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He was lucky to get away alive, especially since he wasn’t wearing a helmet.
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He turned up at the hospital with a twisted foot, some scrapes and a concussion.
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With his foot laced with stitches and in a heavy brace, Lance’s doctor told him to
06:52
do nothing for the next three weeks.
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But there was just one problem – he had a triathlon race in six days.
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The doctor told him to forget about it.
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Instead he got rid of the brace on the second day, cut out the stitches himself with a nail
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clipper and turned up on the starting line that Saturday.
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He led the swim and the ride, eventually coming in third.
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When he heard about it, the doctor who had treated him could hardly believe it.
07:17
By the time of his final year in high school in 1989, Lance was a national level cycling
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competitor.
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He had qualified to train with the junior national team at Colorado in preparation for
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the World Junior Championships.
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However, he faced some serious pushback from his school.
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Throughout his high school years, Lance had missed a lot of school due to his travelling
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around the countryside to compete.
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The school, however, had viewed the absences as being on par with playing hooky.
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The told him that he did not have leave to go to Colorado, or, indeed, to follow on to
07:45
Moscow to compete in the World Champs.
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The fact that cycling wasn’t even recognized as a sport by Texas high schools at the time
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factored into their decision making.
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More was to come.
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Despite his working overtime to meet the requirement, a meeting was called where Lance and his mother
08:01
were told that he would not be able to graduate with his class that year.
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They didn’t care that he was an emerging elite athlete with an unprecedented opportunity
08:09
to advance his career.
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To them, Lance was a slacker.
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Linda soon got her son into a private school that would let him graduate.
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The teachers at his new school, Bending Oaks Academy, were happy to work around Lance’s
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schedule to help him to complete his schooling.
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Armstrong’s fierce competitiveness brought him to the attention of the coach of the US
08:29
national cycling team, Chris Carmichael.
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Carmichael later noted . . .
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He was so aggressive that he’d either tear the field apart and win or pull everyone after
08:37
him so they’d blow by him at the end.
08:39
Lance qualified for and competed in the Junior World Champs in Moscow in 1989.
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This was to prove to be his breakout year.
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He got more attention than others because of his aggressive racing style.
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He broke away from the main group in the first lap, riding in the front peloton and was right
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up there until the final thrust, where stronger riders pushed ahead of him.
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His performance at Moscow marked Armstrong as the most exciting new cyclist on the world
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stage.
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He showed himself to be an aggressive competitor with the ability to focus like a laser beam
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on achieving his goals.
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He was supremely confident, which was easy to read as arrogance.
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He also had no interest in riding as part of a team.
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He didn’t want anything to detract from his desire to cross the finish line first.
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Armstrong competed at his first Olympics at Barcelona in 1992.
09:30
He later recalled that he ‘rode miserably as an inexperienced hothead’ and finished
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a disappointing 14th in the road race.
09:37
His performance, however, was enough to bring him to the attention of the director of a
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professional team that was sponsored by Motorola.
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After the Games, Lance was signed onto the team, which officially made him a professional
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athlete.
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Under the Motorola banner, Lance travelled to Europe in order to compete in a series
09:53
of road races.
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His first race was in San Sebastian, Spain and he came in dead last.
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The crowd jeered at him when he crossed the line 30 minutes after the winner.
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Armstrong was deflated after this race and considered flying back to the United States.
10:08
But, his coach convinced him to prove to himself and his team-mates that he was no quitter
10:14
and he stayed on.
10:16
From race to race, he got better.
10:18
He came second in the Zurich Championships, finally telling himself that he was capable
10:23
of doing this.
10:24
One of Lance’s biggest challenges with Motorola was to learn to work as part of a cycling
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team.
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He would quickly get frustrated with the other riders in his peloton, yelling at them to,
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“Pull or get out of the way!”
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Competitors would try to frustrate him on purpose, encouraging him to take the lead
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and wear himself out early.
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After just twelve months as a professional cyclist, Lance had already earned the nickname
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“the King.”
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At the 1993 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Oslo, Norway, the Motorola team decided
10:55
that he was ready to take the title, and they would work with him to win the race.
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Rather than rushing to the lead, he stayed in the peloton until the second-to-last lap,
11:05
as instructed.
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Then he attacked to take the lead and stay there.
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Crossing the line well ahead of the competition, he bowed to the crowd, blew kisses and, in
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what was to become his trademark, pointed to the sky.
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Armstrong was now the world champion, but to truly be the best he knew he had to win
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the Tour de France.
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In 1995, he won a stage of the world’s greatest race, dedicating the win to a team-mate who
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had died during a crash in the race.
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In August 1996 he signed a two-year contract with the Cofidis Cycling team in France.
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Cancer
11:47
In 1996, Lance noticed that his right testicle was becoming swollen.
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This was followed by a dull ache and then a lack of energy.
11:58
This affected his performance at the ’96 Olympics and he had a disappointing finish.
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In his memoirs he recalled that he felt like he was ’dragging a manhole cover’ during
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the road race.
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In October after returning from the Olympics, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
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He had put off seeing a doctor, but when he began coughing up blood he knew he had to
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act.
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The news rocked Armstrong and his support team.
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He was twenty-five, an elite athlete and he had stage three testicular cancer that had
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spread to his brain, lungs, and abdomen.
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His chances of survival were estimated to be below 50 percent.
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It looked pretty likely that he would never race again, despite recently signing a $2.5
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million contract with Cofidis.
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His team’s lawyers decided that they would not provide insurance cover during his treatment
12:45
as the condition had not been advised at the time of the signing of the contract.
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There were sponsors, however, who did not abandon Armstrong during his time of need.
12:53
Oakley even offered for him to be covered under their health plan.
12:56
Armstrong took on the cancer challenge with the same fierce determination that had made
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him a world champion.
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He underwent a program of intense chemotherapy treatment.
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He sought out and began treatment with a very caustic chemo cocktail known as VIP, which
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was less damaging on the lungs than conventional treatment.
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This choice probably saved his cycling career.
13:17
Throughout his chemo treatment, Armstrong competed sporadically.
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Understandably, he did not do well, but he was keeping himself in the game.
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The final chemo treatment took place on December 13th, 1996.
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In February 1997, his doctors were able to confirm that his cancer was in full remission.
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Tour De France
13:45
Armstrong returned to competitive cycling at the beginning of 1998.
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His contract with Cofidis had been cancelled in 1997 and he had signed on with the US Postal
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Service cycling team.
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He moved to Europe with the team to train for the Tour De France.
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Armstrong was now being recognized as the posterchild for cancer survivor, receiving
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many awards and titles.
14:05
Throughout 1998, he built successes one upon another as he steadily improved his placings.
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That year he also married his fiancée, Kristin Richard.
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The marriage would last five years and produce three children.
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Armstrong won his first Tour De France in 1999.
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He won four stages and had learned to work well with his team-mates.
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He finished the race 7 minutes and 37 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
14:30
In a post win interview, he proclaimed, ‘If you get a second chance at life for something,
14:35
go all the way’.
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In 2000, Armstrong came back to France determined to defend his title.
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The race turned out to be a battle between him and Jan Ullrich, who had competed the
14:45
previous year.
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This rivalry was to continue for the next five years.
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Armstrong crossed the finish line six minutes ahead of Ullrich to become a two-time champ.
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Armstrong dominated the cycling world in the early 2000’s.
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He consecutive run of Tour De France victories stretched to an unprecedented seven in row,
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stretching from 1999 to 2005.
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Following his July 24th, 2005 win he announced his retirement from competitive cycling.
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Allegations of Cheating
15:23
In the wake of his stunning 1999 Tour De France victory, there were allegations that Armstrong
15:28
must have been involved in either drug taking or blood doping.
15:32
In early 2000, under the auspices of the Nike corporation, he created a documentary style
15:37
advertisement entitled Body in order to answer the detractors.
15:41
The film focused on his steely will to win and showed footage of him undergoing drug
15:46
tests.
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The voice over narration was done by Armstrong himself.
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At one point he says . . .
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Everybody wants to know what I’m on.
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What am I on?
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I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hour a day.
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What are you on?
15:59
When results came through that he had tested positive for a minute amount of corticosteroid
16:04
after the ’99 Tour De France, many people doubled down on their accusations.
16:08
But the amounts in his body were so minute that they were not enough to fail the test.
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Since then he has never failed a drug test.
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There has however been quite a lot of circumstantial evidence.
16:19
In 2004, a book was published called L.A. Confidential which claimed that Armstrong
16:23
had been using performance enhancing drugs.
16:25
It quoted from Steve Swart, a former Motorola team-mate who claimed that all the team members
16:30
were using as far back as 1995.
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When allegations made in the book were reprinted in the British newspaper the The Sunday Times,
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Armstrong sued them, leading to an out of court settlement.
16:41
In June of 2012, the US Anti-Doping Agency brought allegations against Armstrong of running
16:46
a huge doping ring among his team mates during his competitive career.
16:50
They were armed with testimony from a number of former team mates.
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Their goal was to have him banned from any sport that followed the World Anti-Doping
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Code.
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Lance did not appeal the ban.
17:01
Armstrong continued to vehemently deny the allegations of doping until 2013.
17:05
Then, in a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, he admitted that he had used performance
17:11
enhancing drugs for all of his Tour De France wins.
17:14
He claimed to have used erythropoietin and human growth hormone and to have engaged in
17:19
blood doping.
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The reaction was one of outrage.
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Parties began lining up to sue Armstrong, including team mates he had called liars and
17:27
parties that he had won libel suits against.
17:29
The US Justice Department sued him for millions of dollars that the US Postal Service had
17:33
spent on sponsorship.
17:34
Many of these suits are ongoing.
17:35
The World Cycling Governing Body issued a lifetime ban to Armstrong.
17:38
He still competes in amateur events, however.
17:40
Today, he owns a coffee shop in Austin, Texas and a bike shop called ‘Mellow Johnny’s’.
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Though he will never shake the reputation as the world’s greatest cycling cheat, he
17:50
has rebuilt a life for himself that allows him to indulge his cycling passion and his
17:55
competitive nature as an amateur athlete.
18:02
Livestrong
18:07
Following his successful cancer treatment, Armstrong started the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
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It began with a fund raising race to raise money for cancer research.
18:16
One of the most successful initiatives of the foundation was the production, in 2004,
18:21
of a silicone band imprinted with the word LIVESTRONG.
18:25
Over 80 million of these bracelets have been sold worldwide.


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Photo credit: Screenshot from video.