THE ARMSTRONG FILE
BORN|Sept. 18, 1971 (Plano, Texas)
SIZE|5'10", 170 pounds
KEY STAT|Winner of Tour de France: 1999, 2000, 2001.
It's not your garden-variety comeback story. 1993: Becomes youngest-ever world cycling champ. 1996: Nearly dies of testicular, lung and brain cancer. 1999-2001: Wins Tour de France three straight times. And the last chapter won't be written until 2004 at the earliest. Only four riders in the Tour's 89-year history have more wins than the 30-year-old Texan, and no rider has won the race more than five times-yet. Armstrong, wose demeanor ranges from merely brash to downright cocky, studiously avoided talk of the record until this spring, when he told a Spanish newspaper, "I think about it because I have three wins now, and I believe I might be able to follow with two or three more." Three plus three would make six Tour titles-and history. But first, Armstrong must overcome the 2,035 grueling miles (starting July 6 in Luxembourg, winding through France, ending in Paris July 28) and the lung-burning mountain climbs to win just one. This one.
1 POSTAL REGS
Ride for U.S. Postal and you ride for Lance Armstrong. Period. Being a Postie means drifting back to pick up food and water for Lance, riding in the wind to shelter Lance and watching Lance take all the decisive mountain and time-trial stages. So what's a Postie with ambition to do? Leave. Tyler Hamilton, one of Armstrong's best friends, joined CSC-Tiscali following the 2001 season and finished second in May's Giro d'Italia. But does Hamilton think he-or anyone else-can actually beat Armstrong? "He has the Tour down to a science," says Hamilton, measuring his words. "That makes it difficult for the rest of us." Translation: Stamp that notion Return to Sender
2 TUNNEL VISION
Armstrong is famous for his laserlike focus on a single goal: winning the world's most famous bike race. (Think Tiger Woods with only one major to win each year.) He trains up to six hours a day, with every riding minute prescribed by coach Chris Carmichael. Heart rate, pedaling cadence and power output are fed into a computer program that fine-tunes his workout schedule. "Most people turn themselves inside out emotionally for the Tour de France," says TV analyst Bob Roll, who's raced the Tour five times. "For Armstrong, it's far more cerebral."
3 NEXT QUESTION?
The French press has hammered Armstrong about drugs ever since his stunning triumph in 1999. And he's hammered right back. After that first win, when a French journalist questioned the truthfulness of his denial of drug use, Armstrong famously responded, "Monsieur Le Monde, are you calling me a liar or a doper?" Although he's passed more than 40 drug tests-more than any other pro cyclist-the French continue to dog him. In November 2000, French prosecutors launched an investigation of U.S. Postal after a French TV crew found syringes and empty bottles of legal medications used to treat abrasions from falls. It's finally winding down now, with no evidence of wrongdoing. "Cycling suffers, because it's done more than any other sport to control its athletes," says Armstrong.
4 STANDUP FOR LANCE
Among Armstrong's biggest fans is Robin Williams-yes, that Robin Williams-who rides shotgun in the team car at many races. "It's amazing," Williams says. "People at home don't grasp how steep and long the climbs are. Lance has the will and focus to break the opposition mentally and physically." Example? Beginning the twisting, 14k final ascent of Alpe d'Huez last year, where he took control of the race, Armstrong turned and shot a long, steely stare at Germany's Jan Ullrich, his chief rival. Auf Wiedersehen. Says Williams: "Lance was saying,'Bring it on, homey.'" Since most Americans don't know a peloton from a pomegranate, what accounts for Williams' love of cycling? "It's chess at 30 mph," he says. "Also, the racers can pee while riding. My hat goes off to them for that. But not too near them."
5 FRENCH KISS
Maybe it's his refusal to speak French. Maybe it's that he's l'ahuaddaz to win their No.1 sports event three times. Or maybe it's that they love Jerry Lewis so much there's no room in their hearts for another American. Whatever, French cycling fans hate Lance Armstrong. At last year's opening ceremony, they whistled (that's French for booing) when U.S. Postal was introduced. At the Tour's end, the press corps gave Armstrong its Least Popular Rider award. Fed up, he moved his family from their cycling-season home in Nice to Girona, in northeastern Spain. "To be liked or not liked doesn't really matter for a champion," says France's five-time Tour winner, Bernard Hinault, who's had his own battles with his countrymen. "The only thing that motivates more than having the public against you is victory. It's also the best way to be liked, because everybody is attracted to a champion." Everybody, apparently, except the French.
6 LET THEM EAT CAKE
The 2002 Tour, featuring five mountain-top finishes (where he can shake free of the vertically challenged) seems custom-made for Armstrong. Plus he's backed by a formidable team, made even stronger with the addition of power climber Floyd Landis and overall tough guy Chann McRae. Who will challenge? Ullrich, second each of the past two years, is out with an injured knee. The most likely rival is Spain's Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, of ONCE-Eroski, winner of the Tour of Germany (June 3-9). Other squads will gang up to thwart a four-peat. It won't work. An individual time trial on Stage 9, followed by six climbing stages in the Pyreness and Alps, will separate Armstrong from the peloton. On July 28, look for the Posties to circle the wagons around Le Maillot Jaune, the yellow jersey, as Armstrong spins triumphantly down the Champs-Elysees.