Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

A few months before he died, aged 46, George Orwell wrote in his diary: "At 50, everyone has the face he deserves."

While Orwell never had the chance to assess the personal truth of that remark - which had been previously made in various different forms and by different people, including Coco Chanel - other more fortunate souls have. Including Lance Armstrong, who turns 50 on Saturday (September 18).

Armstrong, in his own words, is a man who has gone from hero to zero - a survivor of a potentially fatal testicular cancer who went on to win seven successive Tour de France titles, and then went on to have them all taken away, and to see his reputation plummet, following doping charges to which he belatedly confessed… up to a point.

That point remains to be discussed. But as his 50thh looms up, what faces does Lance Armstrong have - and what face does he deserve?

At 20, Armstrong was en route to a top-class sporting career. He had begun as a swimmer at the City of Plano Swim Club aged 12, finishing fourth in the Texas state 1500 metres freestyle. A year later triathlon had caught his imagination, and he won the Iron Kids Triathlon at the age of 13.

Six years later he was ranked the number one triathlete in the United States under-19 section. At 16, Lance Armstrong became a professional triathlete and became national sprint-course triathlon champion in 1989 and 1990 at 18 and 19, respectively.

In 1992, Armstrong turned professional with the Motorola Cycling Team, and the following year earned his breakthrough victory in the World Road Race Championship in Norway, having won his first stage in the Tour de France.

Skipping forward in time, it was in a 2016 speech to professor Roger Pielke Jr’s Introduction to Sports Governance class at the University of Colorado Boulder, that Armstrong stated he began doping in "late Spring of 1995".

That year he won the Clásica de San Sebastián, followed by an overall victory in the penultimate Tour DuPont, as well as another Tour de France stage win.

Lance Armstrong - pictured in 2018 taking part in La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, Costa Rica's premier mountain bike race, and one of the most difficult races in the world ©Getty Images
Lance Armstrong - pictured in 2018 taking part in La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, Costa Rica's premier mountain bike race, and one of the most difficult races in the world ©Getty Images

In 1996 Armstrong became the first American to win the La Flèche Wallonne and again won the Tour DuPont. However, he was able to compete for only five days in the Tour de France. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics he finished sixth in the time trial and 12th in the road race.

Armstrong signed a two-year, $2 million (£1.5 million/$1.7 million) deal in August 1996 with the French Cofidis cycling team. Two months later, in October 1996, he was diagnosed with stage-three advanced testicular cancer. He was 25.

The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs, brain, and abdomen and on October 3 Armstrong had an operation to remove a diseased testicle.

When his urologist, Jim Reeves, was later asked what he thought Armstrong's chances of survival were, he said: "Almost none. We told Lance initially 20 to 50 per cent chance, mainly to give him hope. But with the kind of cancer he had, with the x-rays, the blood tests, almost no hope."

Armstrong’s treatment continued at Indianapolis with chemotherapy, but the last three of the four cycles involved using drugs that avoided creating lung toxicity, something which he later credited with saving his cycling career.

His final chemotherapy treatment took place on December 13 1996, and in January of the following year Armstrong joined his new Cofidis team mates in training. In February 1997 he was declared free of cancer. Later that year he transferred to the US Postal Service (USPs) team and in January 1998 he had moved to Europe in order to train. A stupendous sequence of success was about to begin for him…

In 1999 Armstrong won the Tour de France for the first time, victorious in four stages, although the absence of the big names of Jan Ullrich of Germany, who was injured, and Marco Pantani of Italy, who was under suspicion of doping, left him with something to prove.

That proof was provided in 2000 as the latter two contested the Tour again, with Armstrong beating Ullrich to the title by more than six minutes in what would be the first of six years of intense competition between the two men.

Armstrong beat Ullrich to the 2001 Tour de France by 6min 44sec and retained the title the following year in the German’s absence. In 2003 only 1:01 separated them. Armstrong won the 15th stage despite being knocked off his bike when a spectator’s bag caught his right handlebar. Ullrich waited for him - earning fair play honours.

Lance Armstrong gets the feel of the Maillot Jaune in 1999, the year of his first Tour de France victory ©Getty Images
Lance Armstrong gets the feel of the Maillot Jaune in 1999, the year of his first Tour de France victory ©Getty Images

In 2004 Armstrong won five stages en route to his sixth Tour de France title. In 2005 he held off a concerted challenge led by Italy’s Ivan Basso to win a seventh consecutive title by 4:40, completing the Tour at the highest pace in the event’s history, with his average speed throughout being 41.7 kilometres per hour.

It was the high-water mark of his career, and after this win he announced his intention to retire and spend more time with his family and working with the Lance Armstrong Foundation he had set up to support fellow cancer sufferers.

Soon, significant occurrences began to take place with regard to some key members of the peloton with whom Armstrong had ridden, and whom he always, ultimately, led home.

In 2006, Ullrich was barred from the Tour de France amid speculation that he had been doping. In February 2012, Ullrich was found guilty of a doping offence by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). He was retroactively banned from August 22 2011, and all results gained since May 2005 were removed from the record. He admitted to blood doping in 2013.

The winner of the first post-Armstrong Tour de France in 2006, fellow American Floyd Landis, was stripped of his title within a month following a positive doping test during the race. Landis was banned for two years by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in September 2007, and the following year lost an appeal to the CAS.

After his return to the sport in 2009 failed to develop in the way he wanted, Landis effectively lit the blue touch paper in 2010 when he admitted to doping and named several other riders, including Armstrong and his long-time team mate George Hincapie of using erythropoietin (EPO) and blood transfusions in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Landis claimed this was in order to "clear his conscience".

There was a huge backlash against him within the sport. The American was accused of being bitter, and of betraying fellow riders. In January 2011 he was unable to find another team to ride for and called a halt to his career.

But his claims were already being investigated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Government, whose taskforce was headed by Jeff Novitzky, a special agent with the US Food and Drug Administration which had been a key part of the team that in 2003 had busted the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) through which owner Victor Conte had supplied illegal doping substances to a wide range of elite athletes for many years.

In 2012 the unspoken code of silence which Landis had broken was smashed to pieces, releasing a torrent of evidence which precipitated one of the most serious doping accusations in the history of not just this sport, but sport itself.

This resulted in Armstrong being stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles.

On October 10 2012 a 1,000-page report was released by USADA concluding that Armstrong’s USPS Pro Cycling Team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".

Seven consecutive Tour de France titles were won - and lost - by Lance Armstrong, who later confessed to taking performance-enhancing substances - but not to cheating ©Getty Images
Seven consecutive Tour de France titles were won - and lost - by Lance Armstrong, who later confessed to taking performance-enhancing substances - but not to cheating ©Getty Images

Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, said in a statement that there was "conclusive and undeniable proof" of a team-run doping conspiracy after hearing the evidence of 11 of the retired champion’s former team mates.

Armstrong, who had not been shown to have failed a doping test and who insisted he had not been involved in doping, nevertheless refused to contest the charges, citing the potential fall-out for his family. Nor, after the International Cycling Union (UCI) had confirmed the forfeit of his titles later in October, did he take up his right to appeal.

Weeks earlier in August Armstrong had announced he would not fight the doping charges filed against him by USADA, saying in a statement he was "finished with this nonsense" and insisting he was innocent. Tygart said the evidence amassed contained "direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding".

Tygart also claimed the team’s doping conspiracy "was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices".

USADA confirmed that two other members of the USPS team, doctors Michele Ferrari and Luis Garcia del Moral, accused of helping Armstrong and other riders remain a step ahead of the doping testers, also received lifetime bans for their part in the doping conspiracy.

Tygart added: "We have heard from many athletes who have faced an unfair dilemma - dope, or don’t compete at the highest levels of the sport. Many of them abandoned their dreams and left sport because they refused to endanger their health and participate in doping. That is a tragic choice no athlete should have to make."

In ratifying the USADA conclusions, the UCI president Pat McQuaid - whose own position had been widely questioned in the press following the emergence of evidence in the case - declared, "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling… he deserves to be forgotten in cycling."

Twenty-six people in total, Tygart said, gave sworn testimony. Among the former team mates who did so were Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Hincapie. Tygart praised those riders involved in the "doping conspiracy" for having the "tremendous courage" to come forward and "stop perpetuating the sporting fraud".

Hamilton bluntly admitted, however, that he had been compelled to speak because of a subpoena issued by Novitzky.

Hincapie, a close friend of Armstrong’s who was in the USPS team from 1997 to 2007, also made it clear in the aftermath of the USADA revelations that he felt he had had no option over speaking out.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, reported in 2012 that that Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen” ©Getty Images
Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, reported in 2012 that that Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen” ©Getty Images

"About two years ago, I was approached by US Federal investigators, and more recently by USADA, and asked to tell of my personal experience in these matters," Hincapie said. "I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did."

Although Hincapie said he had competed clean for the past six years, he added: "Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them. I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologise to my family, team mates and fans."

And so the whole thing unravelled, and by the end Armstrong was stripped of honours, in the manner of the French Legion, and facing an immediate demand from sponsors for the refunding of $12 million (£9 million/€10million) in bonuses paid.

In January 2013 Armstrong, for the first time, made a "limited confession" that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in his career, adding that when he heard that his friend and former colleague Hincapie had added his testimony to the evidence against him, he felt the game was up.

The disgraced cyclist chose to make his confession in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey recorded near his home in Austin in Texas. Armstrong may have chosen the setting, but he was unable to control the content of the interview as Winfrey jumped straight in with three hard questions, each eliciting the same measured response: "Did you ever take banned substances to enhance cycling performance?" "Yes." "Was one of those substances EPO?" "Yes." "Did you use any other banned substances?" "Yes."

But Winfrey, in the pre-broadcast trailers to her show, had said that Armstrong "did not come clean in the way I expected." Perhaps that was a reference to this comment of his: "I looked up the definition of cheat. The definition of a cheat is to gain advantage on a rival or a foe. I don’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."

Pressing Armstrong on the subject of his doping, Winfrey asked: "Did it feel wrong?" Armstrong’s reply: "No." 

"Did you feel bad?" "No." "Did you feel that you were cheating?" "No."

And so he confessed. Up to a point. Given the number of riders who were retrospectively busted for doping at that time, Armstrong’s comment was not without reason. As for its morality - discuss.

The assertion that taking drugs is merely keeping up, rather than stealing a march, was the cornerstone of the philosophy of Charlie Francis, who guided the infamous career of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of the 1988 Olympic 100 metres title for testing positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.

More light was cast on the subject of Armstrong and doping two years ago in the making of the recently-televised ESPN documentary Lance.

Asked whether he knew what he was injecting into his body as part of the doping regime he said he had followed since he was 21 - there seems to be some variation on this point -  Armstrong replied: "Of course. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on. I’m not one of those guys. I was always, 'Ooh - what do we have here?' I always asked, and I always knew, and I always made the decision on my own. Nobody said, 'Don’t ask; this is what you’re getting.'"

Lance Armstrong tells Oprah Winfrey in 2013 how he doped but did not consider he cheated ©Getty Images
Lance Armstrong tells Oprah Winfrey in 2013 how he doped but did not consider he cheated ©Getty Images

He added: "I never, ever would have gone for that. I educated myself on what was being given, and I chose to do it."

Asked if he thought the performance-enhancing drugs had caused his testicular cancer, he responded: "You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to say no, because I don’t think that’s right either. I don’t know if it’s yes or no, but I certainly wouldn’t say no.

"The only thing I will tell you is, the only time in my life that I ever did growth hormone was the 1996 season.

"And so just in my head, I’m like, growth... growing hormones and cells, like... if anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn’t it also make sense that if anything bad is there, that it too would grow?"

Armstrong has continued to maintain a strange balance between admitted wrongdoing and maintaining that what he did was not really wrong.

As he approaches 50, what new challenges has this restless, relentless soul taken up? What face does he have, what face does he deserve, now?

The physical challenges, on road or mountain bike or on foot, are myriad.

On his Twitter profile, Armstrong describes himself first and foremost as "Father of 5". He married Kristin Richard in 1998 and the couple had a son and two daughters. They divorced in 2003, the same year that Armstrong went out with singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow.

He and Crow announced their engagement in September 2005 but split up in February 2006.

Armstrong and Anna Hansen, whom he met through his charity work, have a son and a daughter, born respectively in 2009 and 2010.

The rest of his profile reads: "Founder of WEDŪ, partner at NEXT Ventūres, endurance junkie, and 7 MJ’s."

WEDŪ describes itself as "a community of endurance athletes united around the belief that the true path forward is forged by breakthroughs of body and mind".

It involves related podcasts, with one in particular, #THEMOVE, which features discussions of classic cycle races, including the most recent Tour de France, and has as one of its regulars his old friend Hincapie.

Armstrong created a YouTube video in 2007 with former President George W. Bush to support Proposition 15, a $3 billion (£2.2billion/€2.5 billion) taxpayer bond initiative which successfully created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In a 2003 interview with The Observer, Armstrong said of Bush: "He's a personal friend, but we've all got the right not to agree with our friends."

Armstrong endorsed Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke against Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 election.

In 2012 Armstrong was co-chair of a California campaign committee to pass the California Cancer Research Act, a ballot measure defeated by California voters.

Had it passed, the measure was projected to generate in excess of $500 million (£360 million/€423 million) annually for cancer research, smoking-cessation programmes and tobacco law-enforcement by levying a $1-per-pack tax on tobacco products in California.

In the wake of his doping revelations, Armstrong altered the name of his cancer support charity the Lance Armstrong Foundation to Livestrong, and that work carries on with the ambition of "finding and funding disruptive, energetic, breakthrough ideas that ensure each and every person living with cancer doesn’t just survive, they Livestrong".

In terms of business, Armstrong invested $100,000 (£72,000/€84,000) into Uber when it was only valued at $3.7 million (£2.7 mllion/€3.1 million). In 2019, Uber achieved an IPO of $82 billion (£59 billion/€69 billion). According to CNBC, Armstrong said "it saved our family."

Armstrong owns a coffee shop in downtown Austin called "Juan Pelota Cafe". The name is a joking reference to his testicular cancer, with the name "Juan" being considered by some a reference to "one" and "Pelota" being the Spanish word for "ball".

In the same building, Armstrong owns and operates a bike shop named "Mellow Johnny's", after another nickname of his derived from the Tour term "maillot jaune", which is French for yellow jersey, the jersey given to the leader of the general classification.

In August 2020 Armstrong diverted from the normal bike race talk on #THEMOVE to discuss the recent decision by employees at Mellow Johnny’s to terminate its contract to supply bikes to the Austin Police Department, worth $314,000 (£226,000/€265,000), following images that had emerged online of bikes being used as weapons against protestors for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Whether Lance Armstrong deserves this face or not, it is his at - nearly - 50 years of age ©Twitter
Whether Lance Armstrong deserves this face or not, it is his at - nearly - 50 years of age ©Twitter

The announcement drew a mixed reaction on the shop’s Facebook page, although those in favour were strongly in the majority.

In response Armstrong - who is a sworn-in deputy sheriff in Pitkin County, Colorado - set up a meeting between Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and the workers at Mellow Johnny’s, and Armstrong said on his podcast that the discussion that followed was "open, honest, transparent".

He added: "What we have seen by certain members of the police is inexcusable.

"But there are bad people in all walks of life... and that doesn’t mean they are all bad.

"I thought we were going to stay apolitical. I was as surprised as you were. But these are interesting times - maybe unprecedented times.

"Some people are upset with this show, upset with the shop, and I get it. We love you guys, appreciate you tuning in and supporting us. If this is too much for you I understand. But I am not going to let this go without having a rational mature conversation.

"We have got to listen. We have to sit down and have this dialogue, and I am sick and fucking tired of everyone screaming."

Other straws in the Twitter wind with Armstrong - he took part in the Beirut bike ride on October 4 last year to raise funds for the residents affected by the massive explosion in the dockyard area of the Lebanese capital.

On July 3 this year there was a passing shot at his old adversary, Tygart, after the latter had announced the one-month ban on sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson for testing positive for cannabis during the US Olympic trials.

"Oh Travis," said the tweet. "Fighting the good fight are ya? 'Richardson, 21, tested positive for 11-nor-9-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol (Carboxy-THC), a urinary metabolite of 9-tetrahydrocannabino.' Throw in some fancy words – aka hangin with some buds".

Fair to say, Armstrong is a complex man.

Lance Armstrong carried the Olympic Torch before Salt Lake City 2002 ©Getty Images
Lance Armstrong carried the Olympic Torch before Salt Lake City 2002 ©Getty Images

In another offshoot of his podcast activity, he spoke on June 8 with Molly Bloom, a high-stakes gambler. Their conversation also strayed, according to Armstrong, onto "what it means to surrender and move forward."

This is what Armstrong said: "To me I’m… look, I’m 50, so for 49 years I was like 'No. Only wimps surrender. I will never surrender. I ain’t surrendering nothing.'

"And I went through a period, I did a bunch of work on myself and… [long pause]

"Well that… that changed."

"Yeah," said Bloom.

"The idea of surrender kept coming up," Armstrong continued. "So I thought, yep, like I do with everything else, I’ll google it. I was sure it was going to say, 'Oh, the French are wimps and they quit and they surrendered'… 'somebody waved the white flag'…

"You google 'surrender'. None of that’s in there. It’s all about just another level of growth and perspective."

It sounds almost as if Armstrong views surrendering as another form of victory. But who really knows?