The Life of Reilly

Tour de Romance

Rick Reilly
943 words
16 February 2004
Sports Illustrated

Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Wondering how in the world Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong got together?

Better question: How were they ever apart?

Exhibit A : Crow thinks scars are so sexy. "They're your war medals," says the singer. "They're mementos of what you've survived." Well, hell, Armstrong is the worldwide leader in scars: road scars, cancer scars, divorce scars. The guy is mostly scar.

Exhibit B : They are two of the most cussedly competitive people on earth. "I knew I was falling for her one day playing tennis," he says. "I was down 3-0, and I came back and won 6-4. She was so mad! She wouldn't even talk to me. That's when I realized she's just like me: She hates to lose."

Exhibit C : They seem just slightly more caffeinated than Speedy Gonzalez. Like Steve McQueen, Armstrong only needs a fast machine. ("He even goes 100 in 16-passenger vans!" Crow marvels.) If he is doing one thing, he's doing three. But Crow may be worse. Somebody asked Armstrong what her greatest fear is. "Sitting still," he said.

Exhibit D : They've both been to hell and back.

For Armstrong it was cancer, beating the 60% chance he was going to die, reinventing his body and then winning five straight Tours de France, with a go at a record sixth coming in July. Hey, Sheryl, here's someone strong enough to be your man.

For Crow it was depression, which kept her in bed for six months in the late 1980s when her career floundered. Finally she hit with her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, and became the Grammy sensation of 1994. Thirty million albums later, she's an original, baby.

The hot new couple for paparazzi first met at Andre Agassi's fund-raiser in Nevada four months ago. After leaving Las Vegas, they flirted by BlackBerry from afar. "I said I'd teach him guitar if he taught me to cycle," says Crow, who will be 10 years older than Armstrong when she turns 42 this week. He finally got those lessons after their first date in London. "He can play some Nirvana," she says. "He's got a really good ear."

He, in turn, taught her to ride a racing bike (click-in pedals, no less) by hollering instructions out the window of an SUV. Now, she can pedal the first 25 miles of his training rides. "There's nothing in the world like riding a bike with Lance Armstrong," she says. "All of a sudden he's 12 years old."

All she wants to do is have some fun, and she's having it around the globe: surfing with him in Baja, eating Tex-Mex in Austin, playing for him at concerts all over Europe. She's even rearranged her schedule to be with him through the Tour and then the Athens Olympics in August. She thinks the change will do her good.

  • Says he, "She's the most honest person I've ever met."
  • Says she, "He's the best person I've ever known."
  • Say Lance fans, "Uh-oh."

Many are fretting that this may be Armstrong's favorite mistake. They find her dangerous--not just for those sea-blue eyes and fist- biting curves--but because she surfs, rides dirt bikes and admits to a Krispy Kreme habit. If Armstrong loses the Tour this year, she could go down as the Yoko Ono of cycling.

  • "Oh, no," she says. "I want him to train exactly as he always has."

Please. The day Armstrong slacks off is the day Mini-Me dunks. The couple has already entered what he calls Monkville: no alcohol, no desserts, no late nights. Mon Dieu, stage 1 is only five months away!

The past year has been a hairpin turn for Armstrong: divorcing Kristin, buying another house in Austin a 60-second walk from the one his three children still live in, falling in love again "way sooner" than he figured he would and now having to leave the kids (the oldest a four-year-old) to train in Europe for two months. "No woman, no sunset, no bottle of wine alleviates that pain," he admits.

Yet, for all that, he seems happier, healthier and more open than I've ever seen him.

  • "Sometimes she sings in the kitchen, you know?" he says. "And I just sit there and listen. It's so cool to be around someone with so much pure, frickin' talent."

For Crow, who has never married, she's in deep, too. "He has the strength of an army," she says. "When someone has stared death in the face, life becomes all spirit, soul and heart. For an artist, there's no better place to be."

They are together now at his house in Girona, Spain. He rides his bike six blistering hours daily, and she writes, plays and studies Spanish while he's gone. "I'm afraid the next album will be entirely about Lance," she says. "It's going to be the sappiest thing ever written."

Ahh, everybody gets sappy around Valentine's Day, right?

  • "For me, now?" she says. "Every day is Valentine's Day."

Now there's a song title.


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