Age: 29 Specs: 5-foot-11, 158 pounds
Homes: Plano, Texas; Nice, France
THE CASE: Try to forget the cancer. Forget his best-selling autobiography and his picture on the Wheaties box and his general cultural apotheosis. Even forget that he won a bronze medal in the Olympic time trial not five months after breaking his C7 vertebra on a training ride in a head-on collision with a vehicle—a show of toughness that carried his habitual heroism to the edge of absurdity. Focus instead on Armstrong's moment last July atop Mont Ventoux at the 2000 Tour de France. He's dragging Italian Marco Pantani, one of the sport's most storied climbers, up the final kilometers of a mountain ascent so torturous that organizers include it on the route only once every few years.Then Armstrong, in a stroke of psych-out noblesse-oblige genius, eases up and lets Pantani pass him for the day's victory; he's so sure of his overall lead that he need not trifle with a stage win. Humiliated, Pantani comes unglued and withdraws a few days later, and Armstrong pedals imperiously to his second Tour win. Overlooked in the incident was an astonishing fact: Armstrong's average heart rate during the hardest moments on Ventoux averaged 184. His normal training rate for such grades—188 to 192. "What this means," says Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, "is that he was well below his lactate threshold.
What that means is he wasn't even winded.
SECOND OPINION: A trio of former Tour winners bowed to Armstrong in a media scrum following his 2000 victory.
*Jan Ullrich (1997) after losing to Armstrong this go-round in one of the fastest time trials in Tour history: "I did not have the measure of Lance. It's hard that he was 25 seconds faster, but he showed again that he rightfully carries the yellow."
*Eddy Merckx (1969–1972, 1974): "He's not only the best rider, but the most serious. He races all season, not just one month, like so many others."
*Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990), the only other American champ: "I haven't seen anybody dominate a race like that. Ever."
MOST HARROWING MOMENT: October 2, 1996, the day he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
WHAT'S NEXT: A Tour hat trick.