So he does his Texas Tornado thing. He motocrosses Baja with Lyle Lovett. He drives like he's racing Steve McQueen. He wakes the kids up to play. He puts Luke in one of those little trailers behind his bike. (O.K., Luke, we're going to take this downhill at about 70 miles per hour! Hang on!) He pounds out a hand-cramping number of letters to cancer patients and learns to surf in Hawaii. Anything to prove he'll never waste that second chance.
But mostly, he's on the bike. In fact, if you want to interview him, you'd better be able to ride and write at the same time. I had never ridden a Tour bike, but what are you gonna do? It's either that or try to lean out of a convertible. Next thing I knew, he'd fastened me into toe clips and shoved me off without a clue as to how to get out of them. "Don't stop pedaling!" he yelled, grinning.
"Why not?" "'Cause then you die!" �As we rode, he literally pushed me up a few hills with his right hand while he pedaled his own bike. And while he pushed, I plied him with crucial journalistic questions: "When you're on one of these (pant!) for seven hours (huff!), how do you (wheeze!) pee?" �"You just do!" he said. He showed how he turns to the side on the bike, pulls down his shorts and lets fly. �"What if (gasp!) there are people (hack, spit!)?" �"You try to wait to find a place where they're not, but sometimes you just have to. If they get hit, you feel bad." �"Unless they're French, of course." �"I didn't say that!"
Interesting thing about bike racing. It's loaded with old-world sportsmanship. For instance, if the leader has to pee, the whole peloton slows down to let him. If you're stopped by a train, everyone waits for you to catch up. If you don't show sportsmanship, you might suddenly find yourself "flicked" into a ditch.
During an important Tour stage in the Pyrenees in 2001, Armstrong's rival, Ullrich, lost control on a downhill and flew nose over spokes into a ditch. When Armstrong realized what had happened, he sat up on his seat and pedaled easily until Ullrich caught up. The German press gave Armstrong a "good sport" award for it. But would Ullrich have done the same for him? "Ahh ... I'm not too sure about that," says Armstrong.
In 2000 Armstrong decided to switch roles with teammate Tyler Hamilton at the Dauphin� Lib�r�, a race in the Rh�ne Alps. Hamilton became the star and Armstrong his grunt. Armstrong blocked wind, went back for water, set tempo, chased down breaks, everything. Hamilton won, but it nearly killed him. "Lance setting the tempo was not such a good idea," says Bruyneel. "Usually the lead rider must say to his tempo man, 'Faster! Faster!' but Tyler kept having to say, 'Slower! Slower!'" �Hard to believe the man has a resting pulse rate of 32.
LANCE ARMSTRONG, MIRACLE MAN!
A man comes up to Armstrong with a big open hand and says, "Lance, I want to talk to you about your belief in God." �"Well," Armstrong answers, "it's not gonna be a long talk." �True, doctors told Armstrong there was a 60% chance he was going to die, and now he's more alive than ever. True, the chemo made him sterile, yet now, thanks to frozen sperm, he's the father of three. And true, a man who wasn't supposed to race again has now won an event he never came close to winning before the cancer.
But that doesn't mean God did it. "Even when I was looking at death, I never thought there was something waiting at the other end," he says. "I just think, Whoosh. You're gone. And that's it." This is where he and Kristin, a devout Catholic, don't bond. "If he doesn't want to credit the source, that's up to him," she says. �"When I was a boy, I'd see people who talked about God at church and then went home and beat their kids," Lance says. You wonder if he's talking about his former stepfather, Terry Armstrong, a devout Christian who, Lance says, beat him often with a paddle.
Lance's religion is living for today. "Before cancer I was always worrying about what I was going to be doing five or six years down the road. That's bulls---. It's a terrible way to live. When I was the sickest, I just decided, I'm never going to waste another today thinking about tomorrow. This is it. Today is all I have."
And so when he visits cancer patients and writes to cancer patients and e-mails cancer patients, which he does nearly every day, his message is blunt. In early November he visited a man with cancer in a Chicago hospital. The man was slipping away. His wife was in the room, and his twin daughters were outside it. �"What am I going to do," the man wheezed, "about my wife and my kids?"