In the harsh morning sun of a clear spring day, a G4 is waiting on the runway of a private landing strip in Teterboro, New Jersey, for a very important person. The VIP in question has just given a speech in New York City and is now racing toward the airport in a tinted Escalade, with several cars snaking behind him. There is a police escort. There are red lights blown by the police escort. This is a day in the life of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong – bullheaded visionary, sensitive mama's boy, and serial celebrity dater. He leaps out of the first car with a shit-eating grin, a yellow tie dripping from his neck. His slim shoulders are encased in a steel-gray suit, and his clear blue eyes rove from person to person.
It's a particularly glamorous day for Armstrong, even though he's participating in an annual event of a nonglamorous nature. May 13 is LiveStrong Day, a national call to raise money for cancer research. The day is spearheaded by the foundation Armstrong founded more than 10 years ago, which has raised a stunning $260 million, sponsored a bill in Texas to earmark $3 billion in taxpayer money for research, and unleashed 70 million yellow rubber bracelets on the world. Today more than 600 rallies, bake-offs, and bike rides are being held around the country to raise additional funds.
Armstrong isn't God – not quite – so he can't be everywhere, but he has chartered this plane so he can get to whomever he can. He's starting off the day in New York before heading to Columbus, Ohio; Denver; and Las Vegas. This hopscotch across America feels more than a little like a series of campaign stops, and that's not mere coincidence. These days Armstrong is focused on a new type of world domination. Though he hasn't formally announced his intention to run for public office yet, it seems little other than the sport of kings could satisfy him.
"I'm glad I'm not cycling anymore," Armstrong says. "It was fun while it lasted, and I liked it, but I'm so focused on other things now that I never think about it."
Armstrong's high-profile cancer-research advocacy is completely genuine, but he hasn't lost his competitive drive or desire to push things to the next level. Our money is on a bid for the Texas governor's mansion in 2010, which will be empty that year, though he's also considering a Senate seat. "You could argue that you're far more effective as a Texas governor than a senator," he muses. "Plus I don't want to be in DC half the year because of my kids." Then his eyes twinkle. "I don't know what's going to happen with all this, I reckon I really don't," he says, all humble charm and down-home candor. He leans in a bit. "I do have a hunch."
If he runs, Armstrong will make a formidable politician. He has a very high opinion of himself and his instincts, loves to issue proclamations, and inspires just about everyone. The crowd fawned over him at LiveStrong Day's first stop: Harlem's Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care & Prevention, a spotless clinic that has turned away none of the 35,000 people who have come to its doors in the last five years. Outside, in a big white tent, he climbed onstage with Lauren, New York City mayor Bloomberg, and noted cancer doctor Harold Freeman. Freeman called Bloomberg "the best mayor in the world." Lauren called Armstrong "a role model for the world." Everyone agreed that this was a "great day for the world."
There were so many superlative-laden speeches that Armstrong's schedule has now been thrown off by about a half hour, with the convoy finally arriving at the private jetway around 10 am. There are about a dozen of us in the group: executives from the foundation, a videographer taxed with covering this historic day, and three advance-people in sensible suits (before they worked for Armstrong they did advance for President Bush, Bill Clinton, and Governor Schwarzenegger). We climb into a small transport van to cross the tarmac. I take a seat in the front, the lone journalist on the trip and a female one at that – too easy a target for Armstrong, who is flirtatious and just a little bit of a bully. He leaps over and pretty much sits in my lap. "Oh, sorry!" he says, pinning me beneath him. "Excuse me!" I yelp a little, and he climbs off, laughing.