Armstrong's house, which recently landed on the cover of Architectural Digest, is best described as a mansion. It's appropriate for an enthusiastic Casanova and a devoted dad. There's an infinity pool and a seriously hip art collection, with works by Ed Ruscha and Barry McGee, but his kids' rooms are cozy and lived-in, with framed yellow jerseys hanging in their media room across from flatscreen TVs (Armstrong has a nine-year-old son, Luke, and twin six-year-old daughters, Grace and Isabelle). He points out one of his favorite photographs, a picture by a Guatemalan photographer of a couple embracing. "See, the whole thing here is that it's their wedding night," he says, "and he's lost his shoes, nobody's playing the piano, one balloon is deflated, and they've got the spikes in the back already." He laughs, with a hint of bitterness. "It's pretty dark."
On a lighter note, in his gray-toned bedroom the pillows are propped up perfectly on the bed and a painting hangs over a stainless-steel bathtub in his bathroom. "Girls love that tub," he says. "They're always splashing around in it, and I've gotta be like, 'Hey, quit splashing the art!' " (It's not immediately apparent if "girls" means his daughters or his lady friends.)
Running is Armstrong's primary exercise now, and he goes out almost every morning. Though he has run the New York marathon twice and Boston once, finishing in just under three hours each time, he didn't time himself today. This choice of sport is a good thing for him, and also for Nike, which has paid him millions in sponsorship fees over the years and for whom he designs a collection of clothes and sneakers
called the LiveStrong collection (Nike donates all the proceeds from the collection to his foundation). "I like running, and I would run on my own, but it works well for my relationship with Nike," says Armstrong. "The Nike guys like to joke that Michael Jordan's their second most famous golfer, and I'm their most famous runner."
As far as cycling is concerned, he is decidedly downbeat. "No one has any trust in anybody else," he says. "The riders don't trust the teams, who don't trust the organizers, who don't trust the media, who don't trust the sponsors, who don't trust the fans." Nor is he enthusiastic about the way the French authorities treated him.
"Sports live and die by the character and personality behind them, but the Tour will tell you it doesn't matter who is in the race, because the Tour itself is the story," he says. "That is fundamentally untrue, and not to rag on them, but they're arrogant French. I love the event, but if they don't embrace the athlete, they will be living in a very small world very soon." Armstrong still likes to cycle, though he usually does so these days with friends. He puts his hands behind his head. "But I did go back to France recently and do a little test on a climb," he says, nodding slowly. He was at 420 watts at threshold, less than the 500 he clocked during the Tour, and he weighed in 10 pounds heavier. "I don't know if I could go win the Tour now; those guys are really good these days," he says, then flashes his special grin. "Well," he says, "maybe I could."
We're having a nice chat when I bring up Greg LeMond, the bike champ who is suing Trek for not promoting his line of bikes and allegedly forcing him to rescind comments about Armstrong's possible use of performance-enhancing drugs. (Both Armstrong and LeMond had deals with Trek.) Suddenly the flirty, therapy-going, eminently likable Armstrong is gone, replaced by a pissed-off, brooding dude on the couch.
At first he claims not to care about LeMond, but he gets increasingly riled up, speaking in short, sharp bursts. "I feel really bad for Greg, but that being said, I don't like him because he hasn't been fair to me," Armstrong declares. "Greg has sued every relationship in his life – his father, Trek, his oldest friend. That's his MO." He leans back. "But Trek doesn't have anything to worry about. This guy was getting bikes at a discount and selling them out of the back door of his garage. He was doing an end run around the dealers to the tune of two and a half million dollars and obviously defaming and disparaging the company." ("That's not true," LeMond tells me when I read him Armstrong's claim. "There was a situation in lieu of a percentage of royalties." Armstrong, LeMond says, "has no knowledge of where this lawsuit is going to go, but it's going to go where he doesn't want it to go. I will buy you a top-of-the-line LeMond bike if I lose.")
It's bizarre to see Armstrong so worked up. It makes sense that he would be annoyed with anyone who disparaged him as a doper, if he didn't dope; it also makes sense that he could be a man with a terrible secret who flies off the handle when anyone mentions it. It seems unbelievable that he could've won the Tour without drugs, when all the other big names (Ullrich, Basso, Landis, Vinokourov, Rasmussen) have gone down for doping and his own team marred by scandal (Beltran, Andreu, Heras, Hamilton, and Landis again).
But it's true that no one has ever presented irrefutable proof. Even in aggregate, the allegations against him are circumstantial: They're also either old (he took EPO during the 1999 tour, as demonstrated by his "B" urine sample), inconclusive (Dr. Michele Ferrari, a consulting physician, has been convicted of providing drugs to some cyclists but not Armstrong), or have devolved into a he-said, she-said (Betsy and Frankie Andreu's claim that he confessed to taking performance-enhancing drugs in their presence at a hospital room in 1996). Despite the Andreus' testimony, Armstrong won $7.5 million from SCA, a former sponsor who refused to pay him a bonus because they believed he had doped. "Let's just assume I doped, hypothetically," says Armstrong. "How did I get away with it? Nobody can answer that question. Okay, there was something I was taking that no one can detect. That's asking me to prove a negative." He sighs. "Ferrari is still a good friend of mine, which is all to the point that I'm a loyal motherfucker," he says. "Now he's said some really bad things, and he's had some issues, but we never did anything unethical or illegal."
It's been a 10-minute tear, largely unprompted. Armstrong's eyes search mine. "The fact is, even if you take me out of it, the whole debate has gotten to be a joke," he says. "People are like, 'Look at Barry Bonds. His head has gotten so big!' Well, look at Tiger Woods in the Masters in 1997, and then 2007 – he's a lot bigger. So let's all just chill out. Every sport needs to be governed by the same rules, otherwise cycling turns into the fucking doormat." He takes a breath. "If Betsy Andreu had her way, I'd be Roger Clemens on Capitol Hill, but I'm not," he says. "I'm Lance Armstrong on Capitol Hill."
The interview is over. His agent, Bill Stapleton, is in the kitchen with two bottles of wine to taste-test. It's a Lance Armstrong wine, 100 cases of pure cabernet made in his name by former race car driver Randy Lewis. Armstrong invites me to taste them too.
"When I retired, I promised myself that every day I would drink good wine, get a massage, take a nap, and ride my bike for an hour or two," says Armstrong. He's done little of that, except for the wine. "I went 20 years living like a monk," he says. "I didn't drink or eat bad food, and now when someone opens a bottle of wine or pours me a cold beer, I drink it every time. I never, ever say no."
We stand in his grand kitchen, tasting the wine from two sets of glasses. Armstrong is still a little irritated, and suggests going outside. He talks about buying another property, in Marfa, Texas. "I was in a restaurant there the other day, and eight girls came in," he says. "I never saw girls like that in Texas before."
Armstrong takes a deep breath, regaining composure. The sun is setting over some pine trees at the edge of his perfectly manicured lawn, and you can hear a few of his water fountains gurgling in unison. The world is back in order. Armstrong's still a winner. He sips from his glass.