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The Next Stage

There's a new mountain for Lance Armstrong to climb. He wants a billion dollars for the fight against cancer, and he won't stop until he gets it

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Lance Armstrong
Wristband sales and a partnership with American Century are helping to fund Armstrong's crusade against cancer.
Wristband sales and a partnership with American Century are helping to fund Armstrong's crusade against cancer.
John Sleezer/AP

By Austin Murphy

Lance Armstrong will drive the pace car, a 505-hp Corvette Z06, at the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Tip for Indy officials: Feed him before he gets behind the wheel.

Earlier this year Armstrong was piloting his black BMW M5 at roughly twice the speed limit down a rural highway while devouring a teriyaki beef wrap from the takeout window at Roscoe's, the culinary acme of Dripping Springs, Texas. The business of eating the wrap while dipping chips into a small container of salsa forced him to take both hands off the wheel periodically and steer with his left knee. When his passenger offered to take the wheel, the Texan fixed him with the Look.

You do the interview," he directed. "I'll drive the car and eat my lunch." 

You remember the Look: the glare that bored holes in the psyches of Armstrong's opponents while he won seven straight Tours de France, beginning in 1999. The Look made seasoned professionals quail, robbed them of hope, bade them ask themselves, Why do I even bother?

Armstrong may have walked away from competitive cycling last July, but the power of his glower is undiminished. Ten months after his final descent from the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elysées, he is focusing his gaze, his attention, his displeasure -- the Look -- on an old foe, the one that came close to killing him a decade ago.

Having finished his wrap and arrived at his destination, Armstrong sat at the dining-room table at his home outside Austin, sifting through a pile of correspondence. He stopped at a card that said, From Our House to Yours: the Kunz family. It included a snapshot of a good-looking couple and their two young children. The woman had been dead for six months. She succumbed to cervical chordoma, a rare form of cancer that, Armstrong believes, has a 100% mortality rate. "I mean, what kind of odds are those?" There is the Look again as he answers his own question: "Unacceptable."

Spencer Sartin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2004. Suddenly, everyone he met wanted to stick a needle in him. There were needles to take his blood, a needle to knock him out so he wouldn't feel the even bigger needle that doctors would use to draw bone marrow from his hip. Spencer is now six years old, in remission and on the cover of this magazine. (He's the one in the yellow jersey.) But he will remain in treatment for another 20 months, and he needs so many shots -- for chemo, for spinal taps, for the flu -- that he has forbidden his parents to use the word around the house. When Spencer needs an injection, his father, Rob, lets him know by using American Sign Language. "You point your right index finger at your left biceps," says Rob, "and push down."

Before his son fell ill, Rob had raised more than $5,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. In fact, Spencer first exhibited the symptoms of his illness -- the stubborn fever that finally persuaded his pediatrician to order blood work -- while his parents were at a dinner for Ride for the Roses, a cycling event that raises funds for the LAF. Little wonder, then, that the boy has gone on the offensive against his affliction. It's as if, in addition to the chemo, he has Armstrong's attitude pumped into his veins. Spencer signed up for martial arts despite being, on some days, too weak to walk from his bedroom to the kitchen. And last October he and his father completed the 40-miler at the Ride for the Roses. Spencer pedaled a Trail-a-Bike attached to Rob's hybrid. "He worked his butt off," his father says. He also raised $32,500 for the LAF.