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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Lance Armstrong: Soccer Dad & Superstar

September 13, 2003

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in San Francisco

Photo: © J. Devich/Cyclingnews
Click for larger image

Five days before his 32nd birthday and the day before the recent T-Mobile International race in San Francisco, Cyclingnews spoke to five time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong in an exclusive one on one interview.

Armstrong invited us to talk at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 45 floors above San Francisco Bay. Despite being a little under the weather from the stomach bug he picked up from his kids, we found Lance relaxed and in a great mood as he was looking forward to challenging the streets of San Francisco in his final race of the season the next day.

Cyclingnews: Hey Lance, I saw that one of your favorite bands Three Doors Down is playing at the Warfield Theatre tonight!
Lance Armstrong: Are they? They're in Austin in a couple of weeks... I wonder how late they start? (intrigued) But I'll be in bed by then; nine here is eleven in Texas.

CN: I wanted to ask you how you spent your summer vacation after the Tour de France. I understand you took some time off to spend with your family.
LA: We just hung in Girona and other than some criteriums (Austria and Denmark), I didn't do any races. Then we came back to Austin towards the end of August. I was in Denver (Colorado) last weekend for a President's Cancer Panel meeting and I've just been hanging around Austin.

CN: So you ended up just relaxing after the Tour?
LA: Yeah, but not that much. Right now, we are trying to make the best of a really bad situation. We're both committed to being friends and partners forever. It's not an ideal outcome, but if we can pull it off, I think there would be a lot of people that would envy the situation, that have been through it. Many people have been through it themselves or lived through it as children or grandparents or whatever and we're trying to make it work.

Now the kids are getting old enough that basically every day they're changing and they're so fun. Luke has started soccer and he's back in school; the girls go to gym classes so despite all of our problems, we still do all of that stuff together. We go to soccer games together and still all go to dinner together. Now I'm an assistant coach on Luke's soccer team... (jokes) which is pretty scary for them.

CN: So now you're a soccer dad!
LA: (Smiles) Soccer dad... I know! The whole team is buffed out in Nike gear and they've got their little Power Bites for after the game.

CN: The kids must love that!
LA: Oh yeah... we've got the best team! The Blue Dragons.

CN: What is your take on Tyler Hamilton's move to Phonak?
LA: It didn't surprise me. I sensed that coming for a while.

CN: Why would you say that?
LA: Well... I don't know. I just had a feeling.

CN: How about Ivan Basso? I understand that Postal made him a good offer for 2004 but he ended up signing for CSC.
LA: Basso probably sees (Bjarne) Riis a lot down in Tuscany. Basso's a good rider and we definitely spoke to him a lot. Our budget is maxed out so it's hard. Basso was not cheap, nor should he be. He showed a lot of potential and a lot of consistency. We tried to get him but Riis needed someone to replace Tyler. But Basso will do good at CSC; he'll do better at CSC than he'd do with us. I think Riis does a good job. He's really, really good.

Smiling in San Francisco
Photo: © Bob Wilson
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CN: So the T-Mobile International is your last race of the season and then you have two big projects coming in October: the Tour of Hope and your second book, “Every Second Counts” coming out. How did the Tour of Hope concept evolve with Bristol Myers Squibb?
LA: Bristol Myers Squibb loves the tie-in with cycling. Their CEO Peter Dolan is a fanatical cyclist; he does the Pan-Mass Challenge every year religiously and his wife is a tremendous cyclist, too. He rode l'Alpe d'Huez this year, she rode l'Alpe d'Huez this year and they're just great people. And Peter loves the bike which is great for our sport.

So Bristol Myers Squibb wanted to put together an event with a group of cancer survivors, cancer researchers and family members to ride across the country and tell a story. And also, the stories from the Tour of Hope will encourage and promote clinical trials. Because no matter where you go in the world of oncology, a doctor, nurse or researcher, everybody will agree that clinical trials are the only way that we're going to make any progress against cancer. If you look at childhood cancers, the vast majority of children go on clinical trials. And the vast majority of them live, whereas adults, only two or three percent go on clinical trials and we're still the results of childhood cancer. So the Tour of Hope is also an opportunity to tell that story... and these cancer survivors, cancer researchers and family members are riding from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in teams and everybody is in training.

CN: Your friend Bart Knaggs is riding in the Tour of Hope...
LA: Bart is on one of the teams and he obviously has a connection to this through me, but now his brother is fighting leukaemia and his dad has colon cancer. Bart's been training and he shaved his legs. I think he went goofy!

CN: Where will you meet up with the Tour of Hope?
LA: I will be in LA and some other points along the way and then and Washington D.C. That week is all over the place! I have to do appearances in LA for the Tour of Hope and my new book, then St. Louis for the book launch, then Philly.

CN: After the close race at this year's Tour de France, I suppose "Every Second Counts" is an apropos title for your new book. What's it about?
LA: It's funny, I think I was flying here last January to do some TV spots for Subaru and I was on the plane with a good friend of mine named Morris Denton, a great rider and a very creative guy who's been in PR and advertising all his professional life. I said "we gotta get a name for this new book," so Morris said "tell me about the book" and he started rambling off some titles. One of them was every second counts and as soon as we landed, I called Sally (Jenkins) and said "we got the title". I called the publisher and called Bill Stapleton and we all agreed that it was the title. So Morris deserves the credit for naming the book and it was ironic how meaningful the title was this year in the Tour de France.

The most important race
Photo: © J.Devich/CN

Every Second Counts is surprising; people who have read the whole thing are just... they love it! I have to say I'm surprised because I expected people to maybe read it and have a different reaction to it than (It's Not About the Bike). The first book was so powerful with the story of my illness and comeback, but I think maybe in a way, that book was even hard for people to believe. Whereas (Every Second Counts), it's just perhaps more real. It's more everyday life, it's more everyday struggle. It's a guy on a bike, a father on a bike, a husband on the bike. So in Every Second Counts, we talk about all these things: struggles on a bike and struggles in this world with children and with marriage. It's an open, honest book and Sally did her thing. She could write about, I don't know, anything... a rainy day and it would be just incredible.

We got lucky because the book was actually printed and in the warehouse and then the Tour happened. The lead time on books is amazing; they're done printing in July for an October release. So the publisher realized that this year's Tour was so exciting that it's gotta be in the book. So they went back and looked at how many new pages they could cram in there before the binding bends. It turned out to be 15 more pages and they could re-bind it. I mean, the book was done! But now we have a final chapter and the afterward, and we have another ending, which is a whole new chapter that includes the Tour and all the great stories about Luz Ardiden and the reaction from the team after that... it's good.

CN: When is Every Second Counts going to come out?
LA: The same week as the Tour of Hope. October 7th is the release date. But it works well that it's all together; Luke's birthday is that week so I've got to go to LA, then to Austin, then back to LA.

Dave Letteri (Lance's long-time friend and 2000 Tour de France mechanic): When's your birthday?
LA: (Grins) Soon! One of these days... in a few days. Thirty-two. (Armstrong and Letteri laugh together). No plans, just an easy time.

CN: I understand you picked up surfing last winter?
LA: Well, I just did it on that long vacation in Hawaii. I've been looking for a chance to go back; but I can even go out to Southern Cal and go out here... but I love surfing. You stay fit, it's fun, it's challenging. I grew up swimming so the paddling and all of that stuff I've got. It's just I don't have the moves once I get up. I'm truly a haole when I stand up on that surfboard. It's pitiful... just terrible! But I love the rush of catching the wave and standing up, that's enough for me. Totally.

CN: Any more enduro motorcycling planned for the off-season?
LA: Yeah. We're gonna do that. Lyle (Lovett) and I have been talking about it. I just talked to him yesterday about doing it after the (USPS-Berry Floor) December (training) camp. But a longer one... The first time, we just stayed in north Baja, Ensenada, over to San Felipe, to Mike's Sky Ranch, back up to Ensenada... like three days. But now we're talking about going the whole length of Baja California down to Cabo San Lucas and then hanging out there for a while. But that's an interesting trip, because you don't just go down the west coast, you actually cross the peninsula quite a few times on the way down. Baja California is incredible.

CN: At the final press conference this year at the Tour de France, you said you were going to take some time off and not think about the Tour for a while, but then you went right back to the Westhotel and started discussing the 2004 Tour with Johan Bruyneel.
LA: (jokes) Yeah right... 'jeezuz we messed this up! How do we fix it?'

CN: So how will the winning template change? What will you change about your training protocols? How do you see your preparation changing for the 2004 Tour de France?

New schedule for 2004?
Photo: © C. Henry
Click for larger image

LA: Well, it will probably be different because of the situation at home. I won't leave in February and stay (in Spain) until the Tour. I'll have to come back and spend more time here in the States so I can see my kids. So I guess a rough draft will sort of be February and March in Europe, do some (training) camps in Europe then and do whatever racing I can, probably then only do Milano-San Remo if I'm going to do a classic.

Then I'll come back to Austin for April until the middle of May, so maybe I'll do the Tour of Georgia if that's still around. Then I'll return to Europe in middle of May and do the (Tour de France course) reconnaissance and the final month of June, probably not the Dauphiné unfortunately, but other races like Bicicletta Vasca and maybe (the former) Midi-Libre. Some variety of shorter races, five day races, but not 8 day races. And then the Tour. The kids will come to the finish in Paris and stay around until the Olympics, the whole three weeks.

CN: What are your objectives for the 2004 Olympics in Athens?
LA: All I'm thinking about is the Tour...

CN: Then after the Tour, you'll evaluate where you are.
LA: Yeah. Three weeks after the Tour is hard! If you said ‘OK, pick the worst day for you after the Tour de France, I might say '21 days later'. It's a hard time, so I don't know how that will exactly work. I mean, this year it was ungodly hot in Europe... I mean, after the Tour, you just get worn out... but I will say that I'll probably base myself out of Spain for the Olympics; I don't think I'll stay in Athens, maybe just stay in Italy because it's an hour (flight) from Athens.

CN: Lance, I've been wanting to ask you this question for years, especially after your fifth consecutive Tour de France win. You're going through the Place de la Concorde past the Hotel de Crillon with the Lone Star Flag of Texas flying, then you're on the podium with the American flag and the Star Spangled Banner. What was that like for you this year?
LA: Well I dodged some serious bullets this year; bad luck everywhere, bad chances everywhere... and some good luck mixed in. This year (when I was on the Tour podium), I was extremely relieved just to be done and to be standing there on the top step. There were many moments where I thought ‘this thing is just going to slip away'. I was willing to fight to the end, but I was prepared to sort of lose the race and it was the first time I'd felt that in the last five years. But I was just, more than ever, I was so glad it was over. Also, I think it was good for me to have a bad year like that, because it just reminds me that (the Tour) is never to be taken for granted and it's hard event and I'm getting older and the others are getting better and it's just... You know, even after winning, it allows me to re-commit myself to winning it again. I don't want another close call.

CN: On a broader note, how does it feel to have achieved superstardom? I don't think you see yourself that way, but your global acclaim...
LA: (jokes) I'm still hanging out with the same guys! (referring to Letteri and Jim Ochowicz, who were present during the interview)

CN: Has that sunk in for you?
LA: (Emphatically) No... And I try not to let that sink in. I mean, we have to do certain things to keep life simple and keep life safe but (fame) all fades away and I know that. I mean, in ten years time, I'll check into a hotel in the name of Lance Armstrong and (funny voice imitating hotel desk clerk) 'Ok sir, you're in room 382; here's your smoking room... would you like your turndown service?'

(Letteri cracks up in background): NOT!

You know life goes in that phase and I'm prepared for that. It's totally understandable and I'm prepared for that. Life is a little hectic and (fame) comes with its own set of circumstances. I really try not to get caught up in that.

CN: With the coming media attention and hoopla for the Tour of Hope and Every Second Counts, it will be the first time a cyclist will receive such mainstream media attention.
LA: Good! It's good for the sport. It would be good for me to have somebody else come along and do this all over again.

CN: To inspire another kid at Plano West High to ride their bike?
LA: Yeah, yeah... Hey, I think (USPS-Berry Floor) is interested in a kid from practically Plano next year.

CN: Patrick McCarty?
LA: McCarty... he's from Allen, Texas, which is a little town, the next little town just north of Plano. It's flat and windy there and he's a good climber.

As Armstrong spoke of passing the torch, the five time Tour winner showed that he is certainly motivated and focused on winning his sixth consecutive Tour de France in 2004. Thanks to Lance, Mark Higgins at Capital Sports and Entertainment and Jogi Muller of USPS-Berry Floor for making this interview possible.

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