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Transport :: Cyclists
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The Program is a biographical drama about Lance Armstrong, the disgraced former professional cyclist - and the efforts of investigative journalist David Walsh to expose him.
Armstrong developed a programme of performance-enhancing substances, and blood transfusions to hide them, for him and his team. He became famous for overcoming testicular cancer to finish first in the Tour de France seven times in succession, a feat never previously matched.
The Tour de France is a brutal, three-week cycle race. It takes very high levels of fitness just to complete it, let alone win.
Armstrong consistently denied taking drugs. He only made his infamous confession on the Oprah Winfrey show when the evidence became overwhelming. And, particularly, when former teammate Floyd Landis testified against him.
It is a well-made film. It intersperses original footage with cycling shots of Ben Foster, the actor playing Armstrong.
Foster's extremely thorough preparation included intensive cycling training - as well as taking performance-enhancing drugs to see how it feels.
The story highlights Armstrong's hypocrisy. At the same time as doping, he buys professional cycling's governing body a new drug-testing machine.
It also shows him bullying other cyclists during races who have spoken out against drug taking. He even gets Walsh's fellow journalists to turn their backs on him.
One scene that stands out is Floyd Landis, part of the programme, discovering team bikes missing during the Tour de France. He confronts the team's director about it. The director reveals he has been selling bikes to buy drugs so it does not show up on the books.
Landis replies: "So we're a professional cycling team that's selling bikes to pay for drugs."
The story also shows the enormous following Armstrong achieved through showing what cancer survivors can achieve. This was based on a massive lie.
The film's end suggests Armstrong had some sort of religious cleansing after the scandal. In reality, it is clear he still feels he has done nothing wrong. And it could have shown more the extent of Armstrong's character assassination of challengers.
Nonetheless, the Program is well worth watching.
The damage Armstrong did to cycling lives on, highlighted by the continual questioning of Chris Froome, the 2015 Tour de France winner.
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Article dated 4 November 2015
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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