The Armstrong Factor

For December's "Still Out Front," Outside editor Christopher Keyes sat down with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for a candid conversation about fundraising, politics, and his life post-cycling. Here, read more of Keyes's interview with Armstrong, where he talks about the temptation to make a comeback, the future of team discovery, and cycling's doping controversy.

Lance Armstrong    

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

ON NOT MAKING A COMEBACKOutside: I was reading our last interview with you, from 2005, and you were so confident that it was your last Tour. I remember thinking: Is it really going to be that easy for him to walk away? Michael Jordan comes to mind… Lance: If cyclists went to 45 it might be a different story, but I knew that I was just kind of playing with history. I'm an old guy. I'm 35 years old. I mean, that's when [Miguel] Indurain lost it, you know, all those guys lost it.

OK, but was there any time during this past year where you thought, Hell, I won it last year; why not go win it again? No.

Not once?No. I guess there were fleeting moments where I wondered if I could win it again. But you could sit around all day long and say, Man, you could have won nine—and maybe I could have, but… who cares?

How hard was it for you to watch the Tour? Not hard at all. I loved it. It's always been my thing. Even when I raced, I watched races.

TEAM DISCOVERY
OK, leaving the sport was easy, watching the Tour was easy. What about the struggle of your old team, Discovery? That couldn't have been easy.
Yeah, I got there, just for the final third of this year's race. It was pretty doom and gloom, just the atmosphere. But that kind of has to be expected. The guys were upset with their performance. I don't think people expected it to be that bad. It was tough. I mean it was hard to be around. Not that I was mad. Some were saying it was hard for them or hard for me being with the team, the last week, being at the final day in Paris. Having experienced seven amazing dinners in Paris

Did you feel a responsibility to try to pump them up? Sure, but in the final week it's hard. They're cooked. In the Tour, when you're physically spent and mentally, emotionally spent and it's hard to get it going back up, you just want to get it done. You want to get to Paris.

How involved are you going to be with the team this next year?Probably more involved. I want to be more involved.

Which means what, exactly?It means being around more, being in training camp more. I want to get back on the bike more personally. Just selfishly.

FUNDRAISINGIs it harder for you to raise money now than it was before you retired?Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, over the last seven years the biggest month that the foundation ever had was July. But no one sits around and goes, "God, what are we going to do now?" We all had our feet on the ground, were realistic, and enjoyed it while it lasted, so… yeah, but there's no doubt that it's a tougher planet to raise money on that it was before.

Does that push you to be out there in the public eye and keep your name out there?Yes, I mean somehow you do have to replicate what happened in July that can't happen on a bike anymore, that can't happen in a marathon, can't happen hanging out around town. Our big thing now is building this army of people. That's the way. If you have that political action group or that body of people, you win. Then it's incorporated in the people's agendas and campaigns and debates. If a guy goes around and campaigns, you see him hunting and he does his gun shot. His immigration shot

Now there has to be the cancer shot.Exactly. It's got to be on the agenda. All those dudes are affected. If it's McCain, if it's Kerry, if it's Edwards—they've all been affected.

DOPING Most American racing fans don't get into all the intricate details of the various doping scandals, particularly the ones that took place before and during this year's Tour. All they really hear are the allegations. Given what happened, how are Americans to believe in the sport of cycling again? And why should they?Boy, to me, and I'm not trying to divert or put us on a pedestal, but cycling does do more than any other sport. We have to establish that. They for sure do more controls, they for sure were the first people to blood-test. They for sure were the first people to incorporate or to use the EPO tests. And, listen, you've got a hard sport; guys will be temped to cut corners. As I told the lady at The New York Times, if you're born with a four-cylinder and you want to race with a 12

Are you in contact with Tyler Hamilton?Not at all. Earlier on, the first couple years, I would communicate with him, but I haven't. Only what I've read lately, that he's doing a triathlon or something. But I don't know much of anything.

For me personally, as a fan, that one is much harder than Floyd. You go through these stages where someone tests positive and then fights and fights and fights like Tyler did, and you want to believe him. You wade through the minutia, all the evidence, and you want to believe him. And then to see what appears to be really incriminating evidence, it kind of makes you think…. From Puerto?

Yeah.I saw a little bit of that. In the beginning of Operation Puerto there was a whole rush of rumors and speculation and little things floating here and there, and then it went silent. But it's interesting because what you asked about, Hamilton, that wouldn't even come to mind. I don't know why. It's just been two years [since he was suspended], and, again, things cycle through so fast, especially with the new controversy here, the new conflict or whatever, the new crisis.

I just wonder what you think, because here you have this unbelievable legacy of seven straight tours, but the impact of that legacy gets damaged if the sport loses its popularity and is clouded in suspicion. I hear you, but I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that. I look around and I see seven cups [points to the seven Tour victory cups in his office] and no one is coming to take them because behind seven of them are hundreds of controls, formal, federal investigations, lawsuits—all the stuff that I've lived through. All these bozos that come and want to testify and get shot down in the court of law. They're not going anywhere, these seven. My focus outside of cycling isn't affected either. I mean, when I walk into a hospital [to visit patients], do you think they care what happened in Operation Puerto? No. It has no effect. Therefore, I don't care, in that regard. I do care because I'm a fan. Look, people thought that while [television ratings] were down 50 percent that I must be snickering and secretly smiling. I'm like, No, not at all, man. I'm a team owner. I love the sport. If [the scandals] go on any longer they're not going to show it live. I get hosed. You get hosed. We all get hosed. That's not good. So, as the fan, I don't want that. I have to separate the two, but a large part of the day will be invested in thinking about the stuff I'm doing now.

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