I ask Armstrong why he came back, and he initially says the right thing about fighting cancer, and that's certainly true. The $50 million that LiveStrong raised last year was a whopping 26 percent increase from the year before, in the teeth of an unforgiving recession. But pretty soon, Armstrong is talking about saving cycling.
"It's the third-biggest sporting event in the world, and it attracts worldwide attention and worldwide sponsorship and millions of spectators a day. It's massive," he says. "But in so many other ways, it is completely ghetto. Everybody looks at the other person and thinks that they're either trying to fuck them over or they're getting fucked."
That's true. But that includes Armstrong. Outside of America, his September 2008 comeback announcement went over about as well as a George Bush European vacation. British columnist Paul Kimmage declared Armstrong "the cancer in this sport," adding: "For two years this sport has been in remission. And now the cancer's back." Boy, that seemed like an unfortunate metaphor! This being cycling, that wasn't the end of it. Armstrong appeared at a Tour of California press conference in February 2009 where Kimmage, referring to suspended riders Floyd Landis and David Millar, asked him, "What is it about these dopers that you seem to admire so much?" Their exchange is priceless. ("You are not worth the chair you are sitting on," Lance says at one point.) Thousands of YouTube watchers agree.
Still, Armstrong says he returned to be a uniter, not a divider: "There was an aspect that said I need to go back and settle this thing down because cycling was out of control and it needed some stability; it needed a leader."
He shrugs his bony shoulders. "I'm not sure I'm that leader, but a lot of other guys in the group, guys that I didn't need to kiss my ass, said, 'I'm glad you're here because you've given us some direction. If there's one guy who's going to have our back, and if it's shitty hotels or dangerous road conditions or getting screwed around by different doping agencies, or whatever it might be, Armstrong's going to get our back.' "