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#178 – Lance Armstrong: The Rise, Fall, And Growth Of A Cycling Legend | The Drive With Peter Attia

Key Takeaways

  • At age 15 Lance wanted to be an Olympian so he turned his efforts to cycling fully
  • There was a clear change in cycling from 1993-1994, marked by a significant uptick in prevalence and potency of performance-enhancing drugs
  • Erythropoietin and blood transfusions were rampant in the sport during Lance’s rise – Lance used them no more, no less – in many ways, the backlash he received is probably because of how poorly he treated people
  • Most major Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) busts weren’t because athletes were failing drug tests; it was because people were caught with paraphernalia and banded substances on them or in their car
  • One area Lance voiced regret is that Livestrong was implicated in his PED use when the organization was completely separate and really doing a lot of good at the time (Livestrong has since recovered)  
  • Lance is in a place where he’s not living in regret, but learned from his past and acknowledges there were different ways to get where he wanted
  • The sport of cycling started more of an effort to clean up by 2007

Introduction

Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) is a legendary figure in professional cycling having won seven consecutive Tour de France titles but also a controversial figure facing scrutiny for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In this episode of The Drive, Peter hosts Lance Armstrong. Lance walks through his rise to fame, fall from grace – and everything in between testicular cancer diagnosis, historic run of seven consecutive Tour de France titles, the decision to open up about performance-enhancing drugs, staying fit at 50, and much more.  

Host: Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD)

Lance’s Childhood

  • Lance Armstrong’s dad (Eddie Gunderson) left as a baby and was never in his life – Armstrong last name is from his stepdad
  • Started swimming as a child and wasn’t particularly strong but was dedicated
  • Turned pro triathlon at 15 but aspired to become an Olympian so focused on cycling
  • Had an incredibly built physiology which helped his capacity to work, but the measurements back then were crude so exact numbers were unknown (but he could hold a time trial with 200 beats per minute the entire time)
  • Lance was always drawn to endurance sports and structure

 Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) & Erythropoietin (EPO) In Cycling

  • The Tour de France is paradoxically one of the least healthy things you can do – it’s a complete assault on all systems of the body
  • There’s no era in the history of the Tour de France where banned substances weren’t rampant  
  • During Lance’s rise in 1993, erythropoietin was around but wasn’t a common or mainstream performance-enhancing drug
  • In the early 90s, people were using cortisone and other drugs
  • The biggest busts in performance-enhancing drugs weren’t due to failed tests – people knew how to pass tests – it was cars that were filled with PEDs, people carrying PEDs, etc.
  • Between 1993-1994 the sport of cycling changed: it was clear EPOs and substantial PEDs were involved
  • EPO is being used as often in one-day races as it is in the Tour

Timeline of Significant Events

  • 1995: Lance started light doses of EPO guided by hematocrit and hemoglobin tests
  • EPO offers a 10% improvement in power
  • 1996: Lance pulled out of Tour and felt pain and discomfort – he went on to be diagnosed with testicular cancer with spread to the brain
  • 1997: Livestrong was founded in 1997 with the mission of directly helping cancer survivors and families (unique because most cancer foundations are research-focused)
  • 1999: Won first Tour de France (using EPO but no blood transfusions)
  • 2005: Retired after winning seven Tour de France titles    
  • 2009: Went back to competitively cycling (clean, no PEDs)
  • 2013: Oprah interview where Lance came clean
  • 2013: Lance was kicked out of Livestrong (this is one sore area he feels a lot of regret)

Lance Nowadays

  • “In the last year I did way more unpacking than the previous 49.” – Lance Armstrong
  • Events happen that trigger deep introspection and bring you to where you are today – regret is not usually a worthwhile feeling
  • Lance embraces therapy, exercise for fun without measuring metrics
Drive with Dr. Peter Attia : , , , ,
Notes By Maryann

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