Armstrong looks right at him and goes, "No." And the guy takes it and never notices that the chair he's borrowing is the Lance Armstrong chair or that he's borrowing it from Lance Armstrong himself. �This makes Armstrong's night. "Fame and autographs and all that s--- aren't healthy, you know," he says. "It's not good for you." Just then the cellphone shivers again. Armstrong answers and says, "Dude, you in the States? Cool! Can I call you in an hour?" �Who was it? "Bono."
Turns out Bono is a huge fan. Also, Jerry Seinfeld schmoozed Armstrong for a couple of hours one night in New York City. And Robin Williams is a devotee. "I'm his comic domestique," says Williams, an avid biker. Armstrong likes for Williams to get on the team bus before the Tour so he can pump everybody up. Williams's general theme is often that Armstrong has only one testicle left--thus one of his nicknames, the UniBaller. "C'mon, boys, you've got to win this one for the Zipper!" Williams will shout. "If Lance here can do it with one nad, you can do it with two!"
When you're an American who specializes in breaking French hearts, you bring all the friends you can. It's got to gnaw at the French that a Texan is favored to win his fifth Tour when no Frenchman has won even one since 1985. Or that Armstrong may do what no Frenchman ever did, tie the unthinkable five straight of his hero, Spain's Miguel Indur�in. Or that Armstrong could be riding today for the French team Cofidis if it hadn't dropped him cold in 1997 after he began getting treatment for cancer and refused even to pay the rest of Armstrong's salary. Or that the Texas state flag will fly from one of the finest hotels in France, H�tel de Crillon, when Armstrong passes by on his next coronation ride through Paris as the Tour winner.
The French have tried to stop him. Mon dieu, have they tried. For two years the French government dragged out a weak drug investigation into Armstrong's team. Meanwhile the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has made Armstrong pee in front of more people than a zoo panda. (Armstrong figures he was tested 35 to 40 times in 2002, all over the world.) Agents knocked on his door in Austin at dawn. Once they arrived when he was about to take Kristin to the hospital, five centimeters dilated, about to give birth to the twins. What could he do? If you refuse, it's a two-year ban. Wait a second. Whose water just broke?
"They held one of his urine specimens for a full year!" protests Williams. "What is it, a Chardonnay? And tonight, monsieur, we have a bit of the Armstrong '99."
Of all those specimens, how many tested positive for drugs? Zero. O.K., he does admit to having used one banned substance: EPO. But it was part of the cocktail of medications that kept him from dying of cancer. Even after the doping investigation closed this year for lack of a single Q-tip of evidence, French fans still stood at the top of Mont Ventoux in July as Armstrong passed, hollering, "Dop�! Dop�!" To the French, doping and chemotherapy: la m�me chose.
"Those people don't get it," Armstrong growls. "Every time I see some fat French guy with his bottle of red wine screaming at me, it's the absolute best incentive for me. It only makes me want to go out and just kill."
Now the French are trying to fry him a new way: taxes. They want proof that he didn't keep his first-place Tour prize money instead of giving it away to his teammates. "Basically, they're accusing me of breaking a 50-year tradition at the Tour de France," Armstrong says. (In 2002 not only did Armstrong divvy up the $373,000 winner's check among his team and staff members, but he also handed each of them another $40,000.) The French also want to tax the bonuses Armstrong gets for winning the Tour from Nike, Trek, Giro and other companies he endorses. That can add up to $2 million. (In 2001 Armstrong made about $15 million.) "I just gotta hire more lawyers is all," Armstrong sighs.
He has tried to make the French like him. He moved to Europe. He conducts interviews in French. "Nothing works," he says. "They told me to speak French. Told me to smile, sign autographs. Didn't work. It's just not gonna happen." �There may be only one thing left to do: put on the T-shirt somebody gave him the other day. It says, TEXAS: BIGGER 'N FRANCE.
LANCE ARMSTRONG, ACTION BOY!
The man doesn't sit still. His wife knows why, too. �She met him when he was a pale-yellow version of himself, half gone from chemo and scared to die. "I got to know Lance when he was standing on the edge between life and death," Kristin says. "It was awesome to be part of. I felt like he showed me the view from that cliff. And if you get to come back down from that edge, it changes your life. You never want to miss out on anything fun or beautiful or scary again."