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Back on the Bike After a year of marital problems, and a brutally close Tour de France, Lance Armstrong is steering toward a new course

Nov. 10, 2003
Nov. 10, 2003

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Nov. 10, 2003

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Back on the Bike After a year of marital problems, and a brutally close Tour de France, Lance Armstrong is steering toward a new course

The route for next July's Tour de France was recently unveiled,
and it's a doozy, with molar-rattling cobblestone sections and an
unprecedented time trial up the switchbacked and insultingly
steep Alpe d'Huez. With some Stateside cycling fans seeing, in
the unconventional course, an attempt to Lance-proof the Tour,
this seemed a good time to visit the man who won the last five of
these races.

This is an article from the Nov. 10, 2003 issue

From the foyer of Lance Armstrong's house in a tony suburb of
Austin, one glimpses framed yellow jerseys on the walls of a
distant room. Strapped to chairs in his den are a pair of
matching blue booster seats. But where are the boostees?

"They just left," says Armstrong of his twin daughters, Grace and
Isabelle, who turn two this month. While four-year-old Luke often
steals the show, the girls "are characters too," says their
father. "They're awesome and gorgeous." Right now they live with
their mother, Kristin, two houses away. "It's a good setup," he
says. "We're within walking distance. We still do stuff as a
family." He stops himself, then says, "Well, not as a family,
exactly."

Other than confirming that he and Kristin are divorcing--and
denying rumors linking him romantically to his "friend," actress
Sandra Bullock--Armstrong declined to discuss "the personal stuff."

That "stuff" (he and Kristin separated last winter) was one
reason he went into the 2003 Tour de France well shy of his top
form. His early-season training was hurt by the crumbling of his
marriage--"a disruption in my head and my heart," he says in his
new book, Every Second Counts. (The couple's apparent
reconciliation at the race was short-lived.) He was, at times
before and during the race, sick to his stomach, bothered by
tendinitis in his hip, badly dehydrated and oblivious to a brake
pad rubbing against his tire. Not all his fortune was bad. His
chief rival, Jan Ullrich, crashed in the penultimate stage,
scattering hay bales and sealing the most dramatic of Armstrong's
Tour victories. But the question remained: Was his close
shave--he won by just 61 seconds--an aberration or a portent of
decline?

"Listen, man," says Armstrong, "at 32 it's tough to think you're
still improving physically." He is not a young 32. Hanging on the
den wall near a picture of himself with former Austinite George
W. Bush is a haunting close-up of a gaunt, bald, chemo-ravaged
Armstrong.

"The race was a microcosm for the year," he says, getting back to
the Tour. "Personal problems, a lot of distractions, extra time
with the foundation." (The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised
some $30 million for cancer survivor programs and grants.) "It's
a complicated life, and it's hard to manage. I've tried to back
off somewhat."

He's done little racing these last few months. "I've been too
busy," he says, "trying to manage this new life with the kids
across the street."

Whatever complications that new life may bring, Armstrong will
almost certainly be more settled emotionally as he prepares for
the next Tour. He'll need to be because Ullrich has signed with a
much stronger team and this Tour will be a bear, with those
cobblestones and two time trials in the final week.

Which brings us to those accusations of Lance-proofing. "That's
bulls---," he says, pointing out that the course includes
finishes at La Mongie, the Plateau de Beille and the Alpe
d'Huez--mountaintops on which Armstrong has won stages in recent
years.

During a concert at his foundation's annual Ride for Roses in
Austin last month, Armstrong was coaxed onto the stage by his
buddy Lyle Lovett. Among the songs he sang was one whose chorus
goes, "All I want is you." To the crowd's delight, Armstrong
ad-libbed, singing, "All I want is ... six." Don't bet against
him. --Austin Murphy

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER

"She just yelled, 'A Shark bit me!'" --FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 26