It's late afternoon and Lance Armstrong is rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when he lets me in through the heavy oak door of his modest home amid the rambling hills and live oak trees at the edge of downtown Austin. He's wearing U.S. Postal team-issue dark blue sweats and standing barefoot on the parquet floor of his wide, dimly lit hallway. "I forgot you were coming," he apologizes, explaining that he's jet-lagged and has just finished a nap after his morning training ride. Yesterday he returned from a week in Europe with his girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, attending her gigs in Paris, Brussels, and London, and fitting in his daily workouts while she rehearsed. On the way home he stopped in Washington, DC, to speak about cancer survival at a National Press Club luncheon. And tomorrow he's off to Seattle for some testing in a wind tunnel at the University of Washington. He needs his rest.
Even so, he leads me into a narrow, high-ceilinged dining room, fetches us a couple of glasses of water, and settles into a straight-backed leather chair, his feet propped up on the table, stretching his 5'10" frame out until it appears much longer. In the next room his four-year-old son Luke is reading storybooks. Luke's two-year-old twin sisters, Grace and Isabelle, are asleep upstairs, and Lance's mom, Linda, is in the kitchen cooking chicken enchiladas. It's a thoroughly domestic scene – in no way indicative of the fact that the man at the center of it is one of the world's greatest athletes. I've been to Greg LeMond's house, a 10,000-square-foot mansion with a long driveway on about 10 acres in Minnesota, and Lance's house is nothing like it. There's not a hint of MTV Cribs here, no gates keeping the masses at bay, no fleet of Hummers out front. The only sign of his sporting glory are the five framed yellow jerseys hanging in the dining room. Lance put the place on the market in 2002, but after he and his ex-wife Kristin separated in February 2003 he decided to keep it and moved back in to be closer to the kids. Kristin had moved into a new place on an adjacent street, and now the three children shuttle back and forth between the two homes. "The whole divorce thing is not what I ever envisioned," Lance tells me. "I'm closer to my kids now than I've ever been. When they're here, they're my responsibility."
As we talk there are constant interruptions. Lance's ginger cat, Chemo, comes in and meows, looking for attention. The twins, wearing identical pink sequined T-shirts, come down after their naps and demand attention as well. Lance's publicist Mark Higgins stops by to drop off some things that need to be autographed. At one point Lance's cell phone and BlackBerry buzz at the same time. ("They're coming in fast and furious now," he says.) I've known Lance since 1988, when he was the triathlete rookie of the year at age 16, and he has always been one of the most driven men I've known. But never have I seen him spread this thin.
Our conversation turns to the Tour de France. Lance knows that by his age, 32, the four other racers who won five Tours had either retired from cycling or failed in their quests to become the first to win a sixth. But that thought doesn't deter him. As he talks about it, though, I begin to wonder: Is it even possible for a man to stay close to his three children, keep on top of his cancer foundation work, date a rock star, take care of his cat, stay healthy, and fulfill the endless media and commercial obligations of an international sports icon, all while training to win the world's most grueling sporting event? If you listen to the cycling world's rumor mill, the answer is no; something has to give.