Lance Armstrong Strikes Back
Credit: Getty Images
"Daddy!" The Armstrong youth offensive is under way. It's the morning after the training ride, and when I arrive at 8:30 am, the Aspen home is a flurry of giggling and stomping boots. Armstrong's mother, Linda Armstrong Kelly, flew in from Texas late yesterday afternoon, bringing with her Lance's kids: seven-year-old twin daughters Grace and Bella, and nine-year-old Luke. Their timing is kid-perfect. After yesterday's blue-sky, 60-degree day, a fresh sheet of snow is dumping outside.

Luke breezes into the hallway. He's a miniature facsimile of his father, down to the fuzzy crew cut. He's also fresh from an impressive second podium at the local Austin Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby, where kids raced handmade model cars while nervy parents, including Lance, looked on.

"Remember those dads at the Pinewood Derby?" Armstrong asks Luke. "They were obsessed! That mom yelling when you got a second run when your car bounced off the track? She was all mad – 'Why are we doing a second run?' Those parents – "

"Are nuts," Luke interrupts.

Armstrong laughs. Wandering into the kitchen is Anna Hansen, his very pregnant girlfriend, whom Armstrong met at a charity event last summer. She's a tall blonde who works for a nonprofit Colorado outfit that arranges outdoor adventures for people with cancer. Her pregnancy came as a surprise. Armstrong's three previous children were born through in vitro fertilization because cancer treatment in 1997 had supposedly rendered him sterile. "This is a hopeful thing for testicular cancer survivors," Armstrong's friend Dr. Sanjay Gupta raved on CNN after the announcement. "It means his body healed from the chemotherapy and the surgery."

Asked if he feels at all overwhelmed – a comeback, a crash, a baby due in June – Armstrong says no: "I don't feel overwhelmed. It's helped that I don't pay as much attention to the hysteria, to the media." He claims he quit surfing the Web for gossip about himself cold turkey in December, at the Tour Down Under. "I was famous for reading everything written about me, getting mad about it, getting frustrated. I'm not going to waste another day reading that bullshit. Done.

"If it's not on CNN, ESPN, BikeSnobNYC, Cycling News, or Perez Hilton, I don't know it happened." He pauses, and adds a few more outlets. "Or if it's not in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Austin paper…"

Armstrong takes a seat in the living room. He's dressed in a pair of green sweatpants, a matching LiveStrong hoodie, and white socks. On the wall is an enormous portrait of a dour-looking Captain America, painted by Greg Lauren, the nephew of Ralph. Armstrong has been an avid if amateur art collector for a while – he tends to like poppier, guerrilla stuff, like the murals of Brazilian graffiti brothers Os G...meos. On his coffee table sit books by friends such as Ed Ruscha and the Obama "hope" artist Shepard Fairey, who will custom-paint a bike for Armstrong for the Giro d'Italia.

Behind us on a dining table, sitting by itself, is the blue-and-gold trophy awarded to Tour de France winners on the Champs-...lys...es. I ask Armstrong which of his seven Tour victories it's from.

"To be honest, I'm not sure," he says breezily. "They all look the same."

Can he get another? Armstrong is wary of comparisons to unsuccessful sports-icon comebacks like Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards mystery tour, but is noncommittal about an eighth victory. "People will say, 'If you don't win the Tour you've tarnished your legacy,' " he reflects. "But I don't think about that. It would be nice to win another one. Because I like to win at everything."

In the past, Armstrong never doubted that he would win. If he had the right training and the right people – and he always had the right training and the right people – he won. It was simple and ruthless. Armstrong imported industrial-grade efficiency to a romantic sport rich with superstition. He left nothing to chance: Training was no-expenses-spared, beta teammates were handpicked to serve the Lance alpha, every inch of body and bike was examined in a wind tunnel to reduce aerodynamic drag. Purists grumbled that Armstrong lacked panache, that his record stretch of triumphs from 1999 to 2005 was machinelike and soulless, but that was never the point. The point was to win. Fuck panache.

Now there are no such promises. He's more than three years removed from competitive cycling. He's older than almost everyone in the field. And he's got a stainless-steel plate with 12 screws in his clavicle, courtesy of his March 23 wreck in Spain's Castilla y Le"n race. "I was scared," Armstrong admits. "First thing I thought was, 'Damn, I hit my head hard.' My helmet cracked into pieces, but there was this dull ache on the right side of my body. I thought I must have hit my shoulder pretty good, too. And then I just took a pass here," he runs his hand along his collarbone, "and it was like a mountaintop."

He flew back to Austin from Spain in a haze, bummed out. Friends were unsure whether or not to call him. BlackBerry messages went unreturned. He underwent surgery and did a sad spin on a stationary bike the next day.

The crash underscored an underappreciated factor in the Lance Armstrong saga: his really good luck. In all his years of racing, he'd never crashed so seriously. Sure, he'd gone down – quite famously in the 2003 Tour, knocked to the pavement by a spectator's bag – but he always sprung back up. "I might have fallen over, taken a foot out, ruined a wheel, but I never crashed," he says. "No mishaps, no bad luck, and then boom."

He was back on the bike within a few days of the surgery, jokingly asking his Twitter followers not to tip off his surgeon. The training he's doing in Aspen is brutal; most days it's just him on the bike on those muddy mountain roads. He feels good, he says, but not great. Because of the 8,000-plus-foot elevation and thin air, he says, "you never feel good when you're here."

Was there a moment after the crash when he'd thought his karma had run out and considered saying "screw it" to the comeback?

"Of course – because it's never happened before," he says. "When you're lying in a ditch in the middle of nowhere in Spain, and your kids are running around in Austin, it's like, 'Tell me again what I'm doing?' " He laughs and rests a foot on the coffee table. "But that's subsided. I'm back on the bike, training hard, having fun. If I wasn't having fun I wouldn't be doing it."