Armstrong was on pins and needles. "Could be good, could be bad," he remembers thinking. "I literally sat there like, ‘My life is in the balance.’ " A few hours later the phone rang again. It was his lawyer. "Lance," he said. "In five minutes, the U.S. Attorney is going to issue a press release saying that this investigation is closed, and it’s over forever."
"I’ve never felt anything like it," Armstrong says. "With cancer, there’s never that day where they go, ‘You’re out of the woods, you’re done, you’re cured.’ This was different. When that call came in, it was the most amazing feeling in my life. It was out-of-body. So intense."
In an interview with the Associated Press a few days later, Armstrong described a low-key celebration: "I hugged my kids, hugged my girlfriend, and went and opened a cold beer." But the truth is, he went a little bigger. "We just got fuckin’ plastered," he says. "About five of my buddies came over, and we just sat there and got hammered. I don’t even remember the night. I was shitfaced. Tequila. Shots. I don’t even remember getting to bed – I was that kind of drunk."
Armstrong says he was far more worried than he let on. "I had days where I thought I was fucked," he says, before possibly realizing how this sounds, and backtracking a bit. "But I always thought the right decision would be made."
Armstrong says he doesn’t feel vindicated, or like he beat the Feds. "In order to beat them you’d have to go through a trial and there would have to be a verdict," he says. "In this case, it just stopped. For whatever reason, they made their own conclusions." I ask him why he thinks they dropped the case. "I have no clue," he says. "And to be honest, I don’t care."
Armstrong is firm in his belief that at this point, he has nothing left to worry about. "It’s all tailwind now," he says. "Other than a health issue or something with the kids, nothing will rattle me ever again." I ask if that includes the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is conducting its own investigation. It’s not a criminal body, so they couldn’t send him to jail – but they could strip him of his titles.
"I can give you an on-the-record answer or an off-the-record answer," he says. "My on-the-record answer is going to be boring." OK, I say, let’s try off the record. He asks me to turn off the tape recorder, and for the next 10 minutes, he gives the kind of answer you want Armstrong to give – reasoned, impassioned, defiant, a little cocky. In fact, it’s the kind of answer you wish he would give to America, because it’s the kind of answer that would make America go, "OK, cool."
"In my mind, I’m truly done," he says, when the recorder is back on. "You can interpret that however you want. But no matter what happens, I’m finished. I’m done fighting. I’ve moved on. If there are other things that arise, I’m not contesting anything. Case closed."
What about the Tours? Would he fight for those?
"It doesn’t matter anymore," he says again. "I don’t run around bragging, feeling like I have to be a seven-time Tour de France champion. I worked hard for those, I won seven times, and that’s great. But it’s over."
And still, he’d be happy, even if they took one away? "I wouldn’t be unhappy," he says. After all, he’d still have six.
Like a lot of superstars, Armstrong has a reputation for being arrogant. "I don’t know about arrogant," he says. "Definitely a big ego. But all champions have a big ego. If I said something, I backed it up – unless it was the comeback," he laughs. "Whoops."
It’s a telling little moment. It’s hard to see sometimes, but Armstrong does have the ability to laugh at himself. He tells corny dad jokes, loves Rush, played cornet in middle school. ("First chair," he says proudly.) "People have no idea," he says. "Anna says to me all the time: ‘You’re the biggest fucking dork alive.’ "
Just then, Anna comes down the hill with two-year-old Max and 10-year-old Isabelle trailing behind. "Isabelle," Armstrong says. "Do you think I’m serious or goofy?"
"Goofy!" she says.
"What?! Everybody in the world thinks I’m serious!"
Isabelle laughs. I ask her what kind of goofy things he does. "He likes to pull his pants way up," she says. (Armstrong nods. "I can pull my pants up very high.") "And he farts a lot."
"It’s just diet and exercise," Armstrong says modestly. "Hey, you guys are set for the dolphins. Saturday at noon."
"Yay!" she squeals. "Are you gonna go?"
"I’ll come watch the end. I have to work."
"But, Dad, dolphins are so cool! Don’t you remember when I was, like, five? We went to the Bahamas and went to that dolphin place, and I was sitting in your lap and the dolphin kissed me? You don’t remember that?"
"I do remember!" he says. "That was spring break too."
Isabelle climbs into his lap, and everyone turns to watch the sunset glowing like a fireball over the ocean. "Look at that," Armstrong says. "That’s insane. That is unbelievable." He starts explaining how the brilliant colors are thanks to something called vog – volcanic smog. Isabelle mimics his hand gestures, mouthing along with her best Professor Wizard face. Armstrong catches her and gives her a noogie.
Pretty soon it’s time for dinner. He rounds up the kids, and gets four bottles of wine from the bar – two 2006 Cabs and a couple of 2008 Monte Bellos, $175 each – to go. Back at the house, the whole family gathers on the patio for pad thai. Afterward, Armstrong sends down for ice cream sandwiches, and everyone sits around swapping stories and watching YouTube videos.
At one point Armstrong starts telling the story of a bro trip he and Knaggs took to St. Bart’s where they hung out with Jimmy Buffett. "Talk about somebody who has nothing to worry about," he says of Buffett. "He has fun, and he does exactly what he wants. Fucking Margaritaville, all the time. And he’s loaded – he has hundreds and hundreds of millions, but you’d never know it. I wish I could be more like that. Just a regular guy."
Isabelle, sitting in his lap, cocks an eyebrow. "You wish you were a regular guy?" The whole table busts out laughing.
"If I did enter [a triathlon], I would have to win."
—Lance Armstrong, Men’s Journal, 2008