Yes, they were. With six stages left, Armstrong's lead over Ullrich was only 15 seconds. "Do you know how little 15 seconds is?" Armstrong says. "It's nothing!" Nothing that can't be lost when a little boy on the Luz-Ardiden in the Pyrenees accidentally catches the strap of his tote bag on Armstrong's handlebars, sending him flying off his bike for a taste of asphalt.
Panicked, Armstrong picked himself up and rethreaded the bike chain—screaming "every swear word I know"—then climbed back on and realized his dream of six straight wins was on ruin's doorstep. After all, getting to four straight and then starting over isn't practical.
"It was one of the most intense feelings I've had in my life," he says. "Your back is against the ropes. They're coming at you, and you've been losing it all week, and now you're about to lose it all. What's your answer? What are you gonna do?"
If you're Lance Armstrong, you deliver the greatest single-day performance of your life.
"For the first time the entire Tour," said Johan Bruyneel, the USPS team director, "I saw that pissed-off look on Lance's face." The unsquashable Texan danced the Watusi on the field. Riding a bike with a crack in the rear chainstay, he turned the mountain stage into a French cuffing, increasing his lead to 67 seconds—three touchdowns in biking.
Afterward, jubilant and speeding down that mountain in his bodyguard's car, he saw the team bus up ahead. Armstrong can't leave with the team after stages because of all the doping tests, interviews and autographs, but he desperately wanted to be with them. "Stop the bus!" he began yelping. "Stop 'em!" When the bus pulled over, Armstrong burst on board like an ATF agent, screaming like a maniac, "How ya like me now?"
Some of his USPS teammates don't speak English. It didn't matter. Everybody on the bus went berserk. "It was all of us piling on top of each other, hugging, tears, throwing fruit at each other, everything," he says. "These guys had busted their hump for me—kept me in it. It was just a great, great moment."
And this was Armstrong's great, great win, in that he still wound up best even at his worst. This was his Michael Jordan, Game 5, Salt Lake City, food poisoning. This was the year Armstrong beat them aching, beat them dumb, beat them unlucky.
They won't get him like this again.
So, no, they didn't bury him. Lance Armstrong once had 14 tumors in him and a 40% chance to live. If cancer can't bury him, a bunch of guys in Lycra shorts have no chance.