Lance Armstrong June 2005

a candid conversation with one of the world’s greatest athletes about those drug rumors, the 40 million yellow bracelets and his life with Sheryl Crow

“All I can say is thank God we’re tested. When baseball players were charged with using steroids, what was their defense? Nothing. Whereas my defense is hundreds of drug controls, at races and everywhere else.”

The most dominant athlete on earth has survived a mess of bike-race crashes, the kind that have killed a few racers. Half a dozen times he has collided with a car and escaped with scratches — except for the time he broke his neck. And then there was the cancer in his testicle, his lungs and his brain. Lance Armstrong survived that, too, and went on to win the 1999 Tour de France, the first of his record six straight victories in cycling’s Super Bowl.

It’s an oft-told story but worth recapping: In 1996 Armstrong’s right testicle ached and swelled. He coughed blood. Tests showed cancer had spread throughout his 25-year-old body. After the testicle was removed he had brain surgery, then months of chemo so aggressive he got burns on his skin — from the inside. His racing team dumped him. He nearly quit cycling but then rebuilt his body and career. His 1999 Tour de France-he was the second American ever to win — was hailed as a once-in-a-millennium Cinderella story, a heartwarming fluke. Then the cussedly fierce Texan, who is slightly more intense than nuclear fusion, reeled off five more Tours in a row, a feat that may never be matched.

Today Armstrong, 33, is one of the two or three top jocks in the world, known and admired by millions, if not billions. He is also reviled by a vocal minority who call him a dope-abusing slimeball. Never mind that he has taken hundreds of drug tests and passed every one. His critics’ reasoning goes like this: Cycling is famous for blood-doping scandals, and Armstrong rules cycling, so how could he be clean? His answer: “Test me!” It’s hard to imagine any athlete who has given more pee and blood to prove his innocence. In fact, he invites the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to test him 24/365. On the day we met him at the Hollywood Hills home of his girlfriend, rocker Sheryl Crow, he had given the USADA Crow’s address in case the testers wanted to drop by.

Next month Armstrong goes for his seventh straight Tour de France win. The race is the most grueling challenge in sports: more than 2,000 miles over almost a month at speeds up to 70 miles an hour, up and down mountains in all weather. But he expects to win. Armstrong is coming off an epic year — his yellow LiveStrong bracelets are on wrists all over the world, and he bounced from a recent divorce into Crow’s shapely arms. Betting against him is a loser’s move.

We sent Kevin Cook to meet Armstrong. “I was impressed,” says Cook, “and not just by Crow’s imposing house and grounds. Armstrong is impressive: smart, funny and tastily profane. He oozes confidence without conceit. It’s more like courage. He and Crow are clearly more than an item — they’re a couple. They are renovating her house together, very much like husband and wife. Crow said hey and chatted a minute when I arrived. She and her beau may be famous, but they see themselves as a Missouri girl and a Texan who just happen to be hanging in this Hollywood Hills palace.

“Armstrong and I talked while his masseur worked on his legs — female readers should know Lance was bottomless under a towel — and then poolside, overlooking L.A. as the sun went down over Santa Monica Boulevard.”

The full interview posted in the comments. Enjoy.