"I've got a great life with my kids," he says. On cue, his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, wanders in holding their one-year-old son, Max, who looks remarkably happy for a toddler who just got his booster shots. "He was great," says Hansen, a tall blonde whom Armstrong met while she was working for a Colorado nonprofit that organized outings for cancer victims. Lance cuddles Max, who is wearing a T-shirt from Mellow Johnny's, his dad's Austin bike shop. "This kid is great," he says. Later, Armstrong expresses good-natured disappointment at older son Luke's failure in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Dad takes all the blame. Last year, Team Armstrong did well with the aid of some graphite on the axles of the tiny race cars. "They kept the cars last year to put them on display at the school," says Armstrong, sounding like a Tour de France conspiracist. "They may have taken them apart so when they sent the rules this year, they actually had a rule in there: no graphite."
All this domestic contentment is great for Armstrong as a philanthropist and a father, but maybe not so good for him as a cyclist. "When I first came back, I was absolutely petrified in the peloton," he admits with a sigh. "We'd come to fast downhills with corners and fighting for position, and I had completely lost my mojo. It became a point that people talked about. It's like, 'This guy can't ride a bike anymore.' "
Armstrong's timidity led to the worst crash of his career, last March during the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Le"n in Spain. "We came from a big road down to a small road, hard ride, and I was near the front, and then it just started going downhill fast with some turns, and I just kept getting pushed back and back and back, and next thing I know, I said, Fuck, I'm in the back of the group. And that's when the crash happened – just some slappers crash in front of me, and then I go flying. That never should've happened, but it happened because I was scared."
Armstrong goes silent for a second as he lets the words sink in. "That day, I not only said, 'Why am I doing this?' but I said, 'I ain't doing this anymore.' I was sitting there looking around, and there's a helicopter a hundred feet above me. There's an ambulance pulling up. The race is long gone. It's this nasty ditch. I'm looking around going, 'What? Get me out of here.' "
Armstrong returned to Austin after the crash and went for a slow ride with his business manager, Bart Knaggs, a sandy-haired buddy who has known Lance since they were both 20. "Man, I don't have it," Armstrong told his friend. "I don't have the comfort. I don't have the certainty. I'm just not in rhythm."
Bruyneel and Knaggs let him brood for a few days. Then Bruyneel reached him on the phone.
"What the fuck are you doing?" asked Bruyneel.
"I don't have it; I don't know," said Armstrong.
Bruyneel ignored him and kept making plans for France until Armstrong realized he didn't want to go out sitting on his ass, broken in a Spanish ditch. He went back to work, climbing hills in New Mexico and Colorado. He got his mojo back at the Tour de Gila, setting himself up for France and his third-place finish, an even more remarkable accomplishment considering where he'd started. With the notable exception of his sniping with Contador, the media and fellow riders talked of a friendlier Lance. Even the French came around.
"Before, anytime we would be close enough to a Frenchman, they would say, Listen, do you want to be popular? Lose," says Armstrong with a sad laugh. "And then we would immediately say, No, we'll take unpopular. That relationship has turned around totally."