"People don't enjoy sports for the aesthetic experience of the sport. They're rooting for somebody to win and they're rooting for somebody else to lose," Gibney told New Times. "... If that person wins, you feel good, and all of the other bullshit in your life goes away. That's how it becomes personal. I think Armstrong may have been the greatest sports story of all time because he mixed that with a life-and-death struggle, the struggle with cancer. So not only are athletes looking at him, but also he represents this idea that if you try hard enough, if you're determined enough, you can do anything -- you can even cheat death. That's a pretty powerful idea."
By his retirement in 2005, Armstrong had become the winningest Tour de France rider ever, published two books, and raised millions for his cancer research and survivor support charity Livestrong. When Armstrong announced his return to cycling for the 2009 race, he invited even more scrutiny into his past. Gibney's tale of Armstrong's remarkable comeback was virtually complete, then shelved, when a 2011 U.S. federal inquiry and an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency overshadowed the triathlete's efforts and finally lead to his downfall.
"I think what this film taught me about winning is that a lot of the very top athletes have a kind of cruelty in them that allows them to have no empathy for their opponents," Gibney said. "Lance says as a young man, 'I just like beating people.' He doesn't say 'I like to win' or 'I like to push myself,' he says 'I like to beat people' -- meaning he likes to see the expressions on other people when they lose... We may have to accept that, in sports, that is what it takes to be a champion. But it's very dangerous to think that it's OK to spill over outside the bounds of sport and carry the same attitudes..."