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A Lance in full: Armstrong at the pinnacle, part two

Cyclingnews' European Editor Tim Maloney interviewed three-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong the day before this year's Milan - San Remo, the rider's first major hit-out for the year. In the second half of this two-part interview, Armstrong talks about life as father of three, post-career thoughts, reading ritual & dirt bike adventures.

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Lance Armstrong at Milan-San Remo
Photo: © Tim Maloney

Cyclingnews: So what's it like being father of three?

Lance Armstrong: It feels like (being) father of ten!

CN: So your son Luke is about three now?

LA: Two and a half...

CN: Has he learned to say "yellow" yet?

LA: He can pretty much say yellow now; Luke is totally aware of, totally understands what I do for a living. When I put on the shorts and the jersey and the helmet, he knows that Daddy's going to work. If I'm gone at a camp for 10 days, he knows that I am at work, not riding my bike with friends having fun. Today when I left, he was bummed out. He said, "where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to a bike race". He said, "Is mommy going?" and then I told him. "You can watch it on TV tomorrow," and he said "OK!"

So (Luke) knows that you can watch a race on TV; he can look at a magazine (and see his dad). He's pretty sharp.

CN: How is Luke doing with his two little sisters?

LA: He's solid. He's... at this age he can be a little ornery, but when it comes to (the twins) and sharing time and attention with them, he's great. Luke wants to help; a little bit too much sometimes. He thinks that if he's eating a piece of toast with peanut butter, that they need to eat it too – so straight in the mouth! But he's super; he's a great kid. We take him everywhere; we always have. We've always taken him to Europe with us, he went to Sydney with us. When we go on vacation, we go with the entire family; we want to have those experiences with our children. If we're on a beach, we want them there kickin' sand and if we're in Europe, we want them to be there, living the European life.

CN: And the twins?

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With Kristen
Photo: © AFP

LA: The twins... (sighs)... I've got a good wife! Whenever I think of the twins (Isabelle Rose Armstrong and Grace Elizabeth Armstrong, born Nov 20, 2001), I always think of my wife 'cuz she's... (shakes his head in admiration) man! It's a lot of work, it really is. And my best friend in the world has twins and he told me before they were born, "you just don't know, you just wait, it's so much work" and I said 'come on; like is easy; this (raising twins) is no problem... blah blah blah.' He was RIGHT! They say when you go from one to two (kids) its equivalent of going from one to three, so from one to three, it feels at times from one to five. But we both have great parents who live in Texas and my wife is an excellent mother and multi-tasker. You know, being an athlete, you need a few things; you need to eat, you need to train and you need to sleep. So, she's totally understanding of that and she knows that if I've just (trained) for six or seven hours and I need a good sleep, she will not interfere with that.

CN: What about your future path in cycling? You were recently quoted as saying that if lost the Tour De France this year, you might hang it up.

LA: The question was, 'could you stand to lose the Tour De France a couple of times and keep coming back' and the answer to that was no.

Which is probably the truth. I don't know the true answer to that because I haven't really lived it in the last three years. When I work this hard and I devote so much time and energy to (cycling) I expect and I want to win. And I think that's a normal, healthy feeling; it's not an egotistical, arrogant feeling. When you try to put it all together, for one reason and that's to win, and you don't win, you gotta be disappointed. Maybe it's second; maybe it's eighth and we can have a different conversation. You know, I don't have long.

CN: One thing we know about Lance Armstrong is that you are a man of strong ideas. You must have some idea of how much longer you want to race and what you want to do after you finish your career. I've heard some people suggest that because of your experiences as a cancer survivor and a world class athlete, you would make a great inspirational speaker.

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Carrying the Olympic torch
Photo: © AFP

LA: I do some of that now (inspirational speaking); I don't know that I'm that good at it and I don't know how much I really, really enjoy it. I don't mind telling my story and hopefully affecting other peoples lives and experiences and helping them shed a little perspective on their life without them having to got through what I went through. I think that's the purpose. But we'll just have to see.

I just don't know. It's funny, I always: 'I'm done, when I'm done I'll coach t-ball, I'll play golf and drink beer with my buddies.' Well that would last about six weeks! And I would just go crazy and the answer, the true answer is that for a long time, pre-cancer, I always thought about what I was gonna do next. I always said 'OK, I'm going back to school; I'll be a stockbroker, I'll just do something; something else.' And it was incredibly distracting and I came back and realized that this was my one shot, my one and only sort of last shot; I wasn't gonna think about 'what's next' because I know what I'm doing tomorrow morning and I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing next month, but I have to live now and not when I'm done or when I'm retired; I think that's a distraction and a waste.

And I think that if I was giving a talk, for example, I would tell that story. 'So you know what, forget about it, forget about what you are going to do.' I mean, over the last three, four years in America, tons of irrational exuberance, people thinking about their next big move. Well, it may not happen. And so what I'm doing now is big, to my family is big; totally focused on it and when I get there... it's gonna be hard. Ultimately I'll be tied, I think, by geography; I don't want to leave Austin, I don't want to leave my (Lance Armstrong) Foundation, I don't want to leave the friends that we've built there or the relationships we've established. My family, Kristen's family, everybody is near and I can't go to San Francisco or Sydney or New York. I mean, we could but we don't want to.

CN: I hear you are building a ranch outside of Austin.

LA: We've got a couple of pieces (of land) out there.

CN: Maybe you could be a gentleman cattle farmer or something?

LA: Naww, I'm not big with cows, but mountain bike trails I'd like. My father in law and I just bought a beautiful piece of land about an hour from Austin; just a family place where we can go, but you can't make a living out of hanging out on your ranchette. But the answer to when I'll be finished with cycling is that I just don't know. It's so hard to guess. I mean why sit here and say 'Tour de France '04' or 'Athens Olympics '04' I'm done, phttt, see you later.

CN: That's the conventional wisdom.

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With wife Kristen and mother Linda in 1999
Photo: © AFP

LA: It's just easy to say 'final year of the contract, final year of the team's contract, an Olympic Games';

there are certain milestones there. But I may get to the end of this Tour De France and say 'Man, I've just had enough; I'm outta here' and ultimately, I want to decide when I leave (cycling). And I want to sit down with my family and decide when I leave; you know, it's not gonna be some whacked-out journalist, it's not gonna be a contract, it's not gonna be a win or a loss; it's just gonna be between us and we're going to say, 'You know what? It's been great. Seeya later.'

CN: Well you usually get asked a lot of question about cycling, but what about Lance Armstrong the regular guy. I'm just curious; what kind of music do you listen to; what are you reading?

LA: We'll I'm not a big book reader; I am a magazine, newspaper, current events reader. I love the paper. when I'm at home it's a ritual. We get the paper every day (Austin American-Statesman), drink the coffee, read the paper front to back, every section. And if I'm on the road, it's the NY Times, USA Today, it's a ritual. In Spain, we don't get the paper so it's a little tougher to maintain. We still do the coffee part; a lot of times, what I'll do now is after my training ride, in the afternoon I'll get the paper.

CN: The International Herald Tribune?

LA: Yeah, the Herald Tribune... and read a little bit of it in the afternoon, then the next morning, to sort of simulate my ritual, I'll go back an read yesterdays news. But I'm not a big novel guy; I'm not much into fiction... so Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune... I love to read about current events and especially financial markets.

CN: What are you listening to these days?

LA: Have you ever heard of "Gomez"? It's this band that's been through different line-ups, I think. I think it's their latest CD called "Bring It On", I love it. Before that, I couldn't stop listening to Ryan Adams; not Bryan Adams, but Ryan Adams. I couldn't stop listening to his last band 'Whiskeytown' great music. And Lyle Lovett.

CN: Do you still have contact with Jacob Dylan's band, The Wallflowers?

LA: My biggest contact was Michael (Ward) and he left the Wallflowers... I talk to him all the time.

CN: What's he doing now?

LA: He's playing in another band and just playing around LA and trying to get that going.

CN: Didn't Lyle Lovett play at your house last year?

LA: He played at my five year October 2 anniversary; just as a friendly thing to do. We asked him to do it and he agreed and it was probably the most special night of my life. For many reasons: surviving cancer, five years on; having great friends there; perfect weather; Lyle Lovett performing who we have listened to and admired forever. It was crazy, crazy cool.

And (it led to) probably the neatest thing I did this (past) winter. After that, Lyle and I became friends and he invited me on this motorcycle trip; this off-road enduro Baja trip. We flew to Ensenada from Austin and started in Ensenada and went 190 miles across Baja, all off-road, to San Felipe. It was a full tour; this company brings the bikes, services them, brings the mechanics, gas, cleans them. All you bring is your equipment. And your guts! 'Cuz its scary as hell! So we go from Ensenada to San Felipe, which takes forever; this is on the Baja 1000, the markers are still up and everything. I'm thinkin', 'shit I can do this; no problem... ' Never ridden an off-road motorcycle in my life. (Laughs) Probably the dumbest thing I've ever done... I was so scared!

So then, the next day we went from San Felipe to a place in the middle of Baja called Mikes Sky Ranch; the middle of nowhere, generator power; just a nasty, dumpy place. Stayed there for a night. The last day we went straight over to the Pacific and the Pacific down there in Baja is just untouched! It would be like rolling over LA 200 years ago, just sand, hills, cliffs... see you later! Then we rode back up to Ensenada. It was so fun; I've done a lot in the off-season; great golf trips, great fishing trips but Lyle's motocycle trip was, man! So fun! I was scared to death but it was great to spend time with him and trade stories. He's broken his collarbone twice on that trip. Next year we're going Ensenada to Cabo; it's a six or seven day trip. It was so fun and listening to Lyle talk and tell stories.

CN: And on that note, Lance Armstrong Regular Guy had to do the Clark Kent into Lance Armstrong Bike Racer. He finished Milan-San Remo with the lead group and a few days later took second place in the Criterium International, just one second behind winner Alberto Martinez. As we post this page, he's just about to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and will his Spring Classics campaign will include Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

(Gomez: an askew mix of Southern blues refracted through a Beefheartian prism & various indigenous folk styles... mixes touches of '60s psychedelia and hippie folk-rock with a gritty, angular, post-grunge alt-rock sensibility – Tower.Com)

A Lance in full: Armstrong at the pinnacle, part one

Previous Lance Armstrong & US Postal features on Cyclingnews