"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."
PLAYBOY : Were the LiveStrong bracelets your idea?
ARMSTRONG : All my idea. No, I'm kidding -- I had nothing to do with them. It was Nike. They'd made millions of rubber bracelets in different colors for basketball players and called them "ballers." So I'm sitting around one day, and someone says, "Let's take a baller, color it yellow and put Lance's LiveStrong on there." Kind of ironic, a baller ----
PLAYBOY : After your testicle was removed, your buddy Robin Williams called you the Uniballer.
ARMSTRONG: : They said, "We'll sell them for a dollar and donate the proceeds to the Lance Armstrong Foundation." I thought they were crazy. When they said Nike would make 5 million of them, I'm thinking, Right, sure. But they did, and they made a million-dollar donation, too.
PLAYBOY : When did you know those bracelets were taking over the world?
ARMSTRONG: : Sheryl took one on the Today show -- she was the first to do media with one. Then I went to Europe, and the Tour hit. You saw a lot of them then because they were sold as part of our Tour caravan. But it was at the Olympics when I thought, This thing is going off. Athletes from all countries and all sports were wearing them. Justin Gatlin won the 100-meter dash with one on. Then Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj won the 1,500 with his on. Here's the greatest middle-distance runner of all time, a Muslim who had never won Olympic gold. He crosses the finish line, goes down on the ground, praying to Allah, and all you see is this yellow band. Oh my God, that might be the coolest thing I've ever seen.
PLAYBOY : Tens of millions of people wore the bracelets. Did all that support offset the criticism from people who say you must be a doper?
ARMSTRONG: : Yeah. There are stories saying, "He's doped" or "What he does is not possible." There's a disgruntled ex-employee saying she found kryptonite or something.
PLAYBOY : You mean the allegations in L.A. Confidential , a book published in France that, with no evidence, calls you a blood doper.
ARMSTRONG: : Yeah. That's out there. But there are also 40 million yellow bands in the world. That outweighs the negative publicity. As far as the negative stuff goes, all I can say is thank God we're tested. When baseball players were charged with using steroids, what was their defense? Nothing. Saying "It's not true." Whereas my defense is hundreds of drug controls, at races and everywhere else. The testers could roll up here right this minute. They knocked on my door in Austin last week. In a way it's the ultimate in Big Brother, having to declare where you are 365 days a year so they can find you and test you. But those tests are my best defense.
PLAYBOY : What are you expecting at this year's Tour de France?
ARMSTRONG: : The course is different. There will be fewer uphill finishes and fewer time trials. Those are the two ways you win. If you ask, "How did Lance win six Tours?" the answer is "He put time on 'em in the mountains, and he put time on 'em in the trials." So if those get reduced, it's not working for me.
"I don't live with Sheryl Crow, rock star. I live with Sheryl Crow from Kennett, Missouri, who still talks to her mother and father every day. She's not out getting trashed every night like some people in her profession."
PLAYBOY : Are Tour organizers trying to Lance-proof the course to give other guys a better chance?
ARMSTRONG : Doesn't matter. The three uphill finishes we'll have are super-demanding. The final time trial is really hard. So there's no excuse for not winning. I can't roll into Paris and say the course was too easy. I'll have my opportunities to kick ass.
PLAYBOY : But it'll be tougher this year?
ARMSTRONG: : Only in the sense that I'm getting older. Gray hair, aches and pains.
PLAYBOY : Who's your prime competition?
ARMSTRONG: : Same old, same old. Jan Ullrich, of course. Ivan Basso will be good.
PLAYBOY : Ullrich has finished second five times. He's Joe Frazier to your Ali.
ARMSTRONG: : His T-Mobile team is strong. Ullrich, Andréas Klöden and Alexander Vinokourov -- those three on one team are a force. But if you look at our Discovery Discovery Channel team, with me, José Azevedo and Yaroslav Popovych, we have a triple threat too.
PLAYBOY : How much significance would seven wins have?
ARMSTRONG: : None.
PLAYBOY : You're grinning. But six was the record breaker. Nobody had won more than five Tours, not even the great Eddy Merckx or Miguel Indurain.
ARMSTRONG: : Six was huge. I tried to downplay it publicly, but it was heavy. It was history. I got superstitious and wouldn't talk about it. There's something about that record -- so much can happen. A crazy spectator could run out and punch you.
PLAYBOY : That's what happened to Merckx in 1975, when he was going for his sixth.
ARMSTRONG: : Exactly. Thank God we live in a time when every second is filmed and photographed. At least nobody thinks he could get away with doing that.
PLAYBOY : Merckx would have won six if not for that sucker punch. But he didn't win the next year, in 1976. If you win your seventh, you'll top even the six he deserved to have.
ARMSTRONG: : Right. Because it's fair to say he would have won six. It's also fair to say he was the greatest of all time, not me.
PLAYBOY : Americans know the Tour de France, but we don't follow other races. You're also in the Tour de Flanders.
ARMSTRONG: : Yeah. There will be a million Flemish people on the side of the road.
PLAYBOY : Do we overemphasize the Tour de France?
ARMSTRONG: : The sport does. They've done an amazing job building that franchise into a 500-pound gorilla leveraged with global TV and global sponsorships. It's the one race the riders have no say on. For other races we can dictate how long the time trials will be or how nice the hotels are. With the Tour they say, "If you don't like it, screw you."
PLAYBOY : If you win another Tour or three, will you retire, sit around on the couch and get fat?
ARMSTRONG : I'll be a fitness junkie forever, not out of shape like some guys. But I'm not naming names... achoo-lemond!
PLAYBOY : During that sneeze one side of your mouth mentioned Greg LeMond, your boyhood hero, who won three Tours but now rips you. He suspects you're a doper. What's your relationship with LeMond?
ARMSTRONG: : None. What he did in 1989 and 1990 was phenomenal. But Greg's not even worth talking about today. And I don't need to hear from him -- he'd only shove his foot farther down his mouth.
PLAYBOY : Why are great athletes motivated by grudges? Tiger Woods never forgets a slight. Michael Jordan carried a grudge against Sports Illustrated over a cover line -- BAG IT, MICHAEL -- that suggested he should quit playing baseball. He wouldn't talk to that magazine even after a later cover line read DON'T BAG IT, MICHAEL .
ARMSTRONG: : It's good that somebody's got SI by the balls.
PLAYBOY : You're like that too, aren't you? Twelve million people say, "What a grand performance," but then one guy ----
ARMSTRONG: : Yeah, one prick says, "He's not so hot," and that's fuel. That's motivation. Whenever I come across that stuff I hit SAVE and store it on the hard drive.
PLAYBOY : Were you always that way?
ARMSTRONG: : No. Not at 10, 20 or even 25. Through my illness I learned rejection. I was written off. That was the moment I thought, Okay, game on. No prisoners. Everybody's going down.
PLAYBOY : In one of the worst corporate moves ever, your sponsor, the French company Cofidis, dropped you when you were sick.
ARMSTRONG: : And they'd been there when I announced the diagnosis. They said, "We're going to stand by Lance, support him, nurse him back to health and see to it that he wins the Tour de France." So you take those words literally. You say, "That's great -- I've got support." And then -- boom .
PLAYBOY : Later, after you won a stage on your way to a Tour title, you cruised past the Cofidis team's director and said something.
ARMSTRONG: : I said, "That was for you."
PLAYBOY : How has Cofidis been doing since then?
ARMSTRONG: : [ Smiling ] They haven't done much.
PLAYBOY : Would you have won six Tours if you hadn't gotten cancer?
ARMSTRONG: : I would have won zero.
PLAYBOY : You've beaten all the other guys, but what would happen if the 1999 Lance Armstrong rode against you? Who would win?
ARMSTRONG: : If I'm in race shape, I think today's Lance wins. More experience, better tactics, more calmness in the race. And a team that's 10 times stronger.
PLAYBOY : It's a team sport. There are time trials in which the whole team's time counts, not just yours. And in the racing pack, the peloton, your teammates protect and pace you, often riding just ahead so you can draft behind them.
ARMSTRONG : Our 1999 team was the Bad News Bears, but in 2004 we were stacked, just unbeatable.
PLAYBOY : Do you have a favorite Tour de France?
ARMSTRONG: : My most aggressive race was in 2001. That was the one I wanted most, and it was probably the most fun. The fake-out on Alpe d'Huez ----
PLAYBOY : You faked exhaustion. Ullrich and his Deutsche Telekom team thought you were toast and zipped ahead. One reporter said they were "hammering like the hounds of hell." Then you took off.
ARMSTRONG: : And made up two minutes on Ullrich. That was my best day on the bike, hands down.
PLAYBOY : But now you're less aggressive, more methodical.
ARMSTRONG: : More selective. Last year, for example, I couldn't get rid of Basso on the climbs. But we had an individual time trial ahead, and I knew he'd give back time there.
PLAYBOY : He's better at climbs than sprints. And you're more patient than the Armstrong of 1999.
ARMSTRONG: : The riskiest thing you can do is get greedy. You learn that your tank is only so big, and if you just keep burning you'll run out of fuel. In 2000 I cracked and lost a lot of time, could have lost the Tour. I'm more respectful of that possibility now. Over time you develop a feel for when you're going into the red. There are times you have to do that, but not always. What's best is when you're going faster than anybody else but you're not killing yourself, not subtracting from what you can do the next day. Like last year -- not once was I ever totally in the red zone.
PLAYBOY : It sounds like you're ready to win again.
ARMSTRONG: : It's hard to know in advance. In 2003 it was all red, all suffering.
PLAYBOY : You've said you like suffering.
ARMSTRONG: : There are different kinds. There's the kind you get when your tank is empty and you look up and see 100 guys in front of you. That's devastating. That's just rusty pain. But when you're hurting and you hear on the radio that you've got 10 seconds on your biggest rival, and now it's 20 seconds, or in 2001 two minutes on Ullrich -- that's a true sporting high. You're numb to pain. You can't feel the lactate in your muscles, and you just go faster and faster, which is not what I felt today.
PLAYBOY : You had a training run, Hollywood to Pasadena.
ARMSTRONG: : I'm not in shape yet. I go out to suffer -- my pain threshold is low and my body weight is high, which makes for a nasty mix of suffering and heaviness. And I know how it feels to ride fast. Today is one of those "Damn, why do I do this?" days.
PLAYBOY : The leader in the Tour gets a yellow jersey. What happens to the jersey after you ride? Do you wash it?
ARMSTRONG: : You get a new one every day, but I like to keep wearing the first one. It feels better once you break it in, like a favorite old T-shirt you've worn a thousand times. On the last day I'll take it off and save it. All six of my last-day jerseys are up on my wall. If they weren't glassed in, they'd be stinky.
PLAYBOY : Can you ask for extras?
ARMSTRONG: : Yep. They know you'll give a few away. Maybe I shouldn't say, but I've got about 400 of them.
PLAYBOY : There's an interesting etiquette in pro cycling. The whole peloton slows down and waits if a rider stops to pee. And when you were struggling in 2000, two riders from the Vini Caldirola team let you draft off them. Weren't they hurting their own chances?
ARMSTRONG: : Their team wasn't going to win, so they had no real skin in the game. They just had a certain respect and empathy for me. That's part of our sport. It happens in NASCAR, mostly between teammates. Who's to say it doesn't happen in the NFL? Every year there's some goofy scenario -- some bullshit team trying to get a wild card beats a team that has a spot in the playoffs locked up.
PLAYBOY : Is cycling etiquette dying? Tour stars often let lesser guys win stages if they're no threat in the overall standings, but last year you went all out. Your approach was pas de cadeaux , no gifts.
ARMSTRONG: : Last year was unique. The run-up to the Tour was stressful. I'd been written off 30 different times, my obituary written every day. That just built up in the hard drive until I was thinking, All right, dudes, let's go!
PLAYBOY : Grudges again.
ARMSTRONG: : I was excited. And there were so many sprint finishes. For me a four- or five-man sprint finish is just too intense to pass up.
PLAYBOY : Let's talk about crashing. On one training ride in France you zoomed into a blind corner and hit a truck coming the other way.
ARMSTRONG: : Hit it head-on. The bike split in three pieces. My helmet just melted. And the driver got belligerent. French guy. He was mad that I'd bent his little piece-of-junk truck, and I'm lying there with a cracked C7 vertebra, a broken neck. What's really scary is crashing in a race. The first week of the Tour is the worst. You've got 200 guys who want to be at the front, and it's aggressive and gnarly and windy. I look straight ahead, just waiting for some kook in front of me to crash. Then the race goes on, and you add rain or cobblestones. Last year on the cobbles I was so scared I felt like a child, just terrified.
PLAYBOY : People think you're immune to fear.
ARMSTRONG: : Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that's not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing. If you're caught behind a crash in a windy section with 50 guys in a pile in front of you -- game over.
PLAYBOY : Don't they give you some leeway? You're a six-time champ.
ARMSTRONG: : If you're in the middle of 50 guys, they don't care who you are. They don't care if you've won the Tour once or six times. Everybody's desperate. We're all killers to some degree. It's easy to get quacked -- that's what we call it when a guy comes into you without looking.
PLAYBOY : Worse than getting quacked is getting flicked.
ARMSTRONG: : That's when it's intentional. Direct from the German flicken . It means you got fucked.
PLAYBOY : The sport is more colorful than people think. When French fans booed and whistled at you and your U.S. Postal teammates, you responded by booing each other. You had team jingles, too -- chants you'd repeat before a stage, like "Somebody's going to be my bitch today, bitch today, bitch today."
ARMSTRONG: : There's less of that now that our team has gotten more and more international.
PLAYBOY : That would be hard to put into Esperanto.
ARMSTRONG: : Yes, it's tough to tell a Portuguese guy what you mean by "Who's going to be my bitch today?" I might have only one other American with me this year, George Hincapie. I'll have to talk smack with George.
PLAYBOY : You're even more famous in Europe than you are here. Do you like being a celebrity?
ARMSTRONG: : Celebrity and fame , those words make me uncomfortable. Some athletes are addicted to fame, but that's not what gets me off.
PLAYBOY : Aren't you courting it by being with Crow?
ARMSTRONG: : She's no stranger to the public eye. But I don't live with Sheryl Crow, rock star. Okay, she lives in Los Angeles, and she's arguably the queen of rock and roll. But I live with Sheryl Crow from Kennett, Missouri, who still talks to her mother and father every day, a girl who's funny, likable, smart and athletic. She's not out getting trashed every night like some people in her profession.
PLAYBOY : You're also buddies with Bono of U2 and Lyle Lovett. Whose music is better, Crow's or theirs?
ARMSTRONG: : Ha. It's different. I will say I like her music, and I'm not saying that just because she pays me to.
PLAYBOY : You and she kissed after you won a Tour stage last year. One reporter described it as "fiery, impetuous and nearly unending." Was that your best career kiss?
ARMSTRONG: : I don't remember that one. We have a lot of long, juicy kisses. Kissing's good for relationships.
PLAYBOY : Are you two very much alike, or are you opposites?
ARMSTRONG: : Similar. We're type A people who can't sit still. Sheryl couldn't sit here and talk to you for an hour. She'd be shaking her foot the whole time. Sometimes I'll be talking to her and say, "Calm it with the foot!"
PLAYBOY : What was the first thing you and she said to each other?
ARMSTRONG: : We talked about trading guitar lessons for bike-riding lessons. But to be honest, I wasn't much concerned about the guitar lessons.
PLAYBOY : Lovett married and broke up with Julia Roberts. Did he give you any advice on celebrity romance?
ARMSTRONG: : Lyle's about as down-home as they get. He still lives on the ranch he grew up on, and he's trying to reconstruct it. He never left Texas. He did spend time in L.A. and New York with Julia, but I think that was tough on him. To some degree it's like that for me. I miss Austin. I miss my three kids, who live there with their mother.
PLAYBOY : You have a cat named Chemo ----
ARMSTRONG: : Not anymore. I lost the cat in the divorce. What's up with that? It was my cat!
PLAYBOY : Do you still have a house just a couple doors down from Kristin, your ex?
ARMSTRONG: : No, that wasn't a good thing. Too close. I'm building a new house about a mile away. I'm trying to spend more time in Austin, and that'll happen soon enough. When cycling is over, my main commitments will be to my kids and to Sheryl. I'm still learning how to live in a relationship. I wasn't successful the first time.
PLAYBOY : Crow took you to the Grammys last winter. Melissa Etheridge was there -- she'd lost her hair after chemo for breast cancer. Did you talk to her about that?
ARMSTRONG: : We sat together in the front row. She's done with treatments now. She's in that phase when you wait to see what the next scans show, what the next set of blood work reveals. Melissa looked great. I thought she was mighty courageous, rolling out with no hair, performing onstage and just killing. I was nearly crying.
PLAYBOY : Not too many bike racers get front-row seats at the Grammys.
ARMSTRONG: : Someone behind me yelled "Lance, Lance!" I turn around and it's James Brown, and the Godfather of Soul has a yellow band around his wrist. That was wild. It's a three-hour show, and I was dying, just jonesing for a cold beer, when this lady walks out and hands me one. In the whole Staples Center, I'm the only one with a beer. Sheryl says, "Who gave you that?" Then Melissa sings, comes back and says, "Did you get your beer?" She'd heard me groaning, "God, I need a beer," so she had someone find me one. Sweet lady.
PLAYBOY : When you were sick you got involved in every medical decision. Now you tell other patients to be the same way.
ARMSTRONG: : You've got to ask questions, get second and third opinions. That can be tricky because people feel loyal to their doctors. A cancer diagnosis is devastating news, and they develop a bond with the doctor who tells them. But you've got to act in your own interest. Do some politicking, not just with doctors but with nurses, administrators, the hospital pharmacist. Tell the pharmacist, "Dude, give me the good batch, the fresh stuff." Ask the nurse how she's doing: "How'd you sleep last night? Did you have a good breakfast? Oh, and make sure my dose is right." I was highly aware of their importance. That's where I learned to build a team.
PLAYBOY : In the hospital?
ARMSTRONG: : Right. Saying, "Craig and Larry, you're my head doctors. LaTrice, you're my head nurse." It's critical to know the nurses. They're working for you 90 percent of the time, while the doctors are there 10 percent of the time.
PLAYBOY : It's been more than eight years since your diagnosis. The chemo damaged your kidneys, didn't it?
ARMSTRONG: : Some. I was on 24-hour hydration because they changed the drug protocols at the last minute. The first one I'd been on was tougher on the lungs. If I was ever going to race again, I needed something different. Now I'm supposedly in the clear. I still get nervous about relapsing, but everything seems normal.
PLAYBOY : Any other lasting effects?
ARMSTRONG: : Sterility.
PLAYBOY : Is that permanent?
ARMSTRONG: : It's about 50-50. I might get it back.
PLAYBOY : What if you and Crow want to have a child?
ARMSTRONG: : That's possible. We've talked about it.
PLAYBOY : You had a sperm sample frozen in 1996. Does it have a particular shelf life?
ARMSTRONG: : It's tougher to use sperm that's been frozen for eight years. I don't know how many there are in the sample. Ten million, maybe. That sounds like a lot, but it's not.
PLAYBOY : Have you been tested lately?
ARMSTRONG: : No. Going to the lab for that test is not the most glamorous thing in the world. Going into that little room in 1996, that was no fun. And I'd just had surgery to remove the bad testicle. That's a big cut -- I could barely walk.
PLAYBOY : You had the testicle cut out before donating the sperm?
ARMSTRONG: : Two days before. Painful? Dude, it was terrible. But I had to do it if I was ever going to have kids.
PLAYBOY : How did you get in the mood to... donate?
ARMSTRONG: : No choice. I didn't have a wife yet or anybody to have kids with. Sure, it was awful, but now I have three healthy little miracle children. I'm glad I limped down to that lab in San Antonio.
PLAYBOY : They give a guy some ammo for that. Magazines.
ARMSTRONG: : I don't think it was PLAYBOY . For that kind of ammo PLAYBOY is sort of a slingshot. You can read it. That's why we're talking. But there are some shoulder rockets in that field -- if PLAYBOY were one of those weapons of mass destruction, I wouldn't be doing this interview.
PLAYBOY : After you lose a testicle, does the other one stay where it was or does it move to the middle?
ARMSTRONG: : It stays. Mine stayed left. You also produce less testosterone. The one that remains picks up a bit of the slack for his buddy who's gone, but not all of it. Since 1996 I've had chronically low testosterone, and I can't do anything about it.
PLAYBOY : It's a banned substance. You couldn't race if you replaced the testosterone you lost.
ARMSTRONG: : I have to wait until I retire. It's not a question of being manly or being a sexual god, but I worry about osteoporosis. Chronically low testosterone leads to brittle bones.
PLAYBOY : Does it affect your sex drive?
ARMSTRONG: : [ Smiling ] Not yet.
PLAYBOY : What do you think of drug testing in other sports?
ARMSTRONG: : Baseball is the hot topic. Look at Jason Giambi and the Yankees. They need to test for steroids. In the future I think franchises and sponsors are going to hold the athletes responsible. If they're not clean, sponsors and teams will go after their money -- not just to stop paying salaries but to get back previous payments. And that's serious because we all spend our money when we get it. If you're a baseball player who tests positive and your team wants your salary back from last year, can you get it back and repay them?
PLAYBOY : You mentioned Giambi. How about Barry Bonds?
ARMSTRONG: : I'm not one of those cynics who think there are 10 different undetectable compounds. I'm not going to say Barry Bonds has something under the table. But then BALCO was all about making something undetectable.
PLAYBOY : Do drug scandals in other sports hurt your cause?
ARMSTRONG: : No. My first line of defense is that I've been competing for a long time, and my body looks the same. I won the world championship when I was 21, the youngest ever. It's been a steady progression from there. The drug spotlight has been shining on me since 1999, and my performances have not diminished. But when that light hits some athletes they disappear.
PLAYBOY : Suddenly the guy goes from 44 home runs back to 15.
ARMSTRONG: : Or he doesn't run as fast. My second line of defense is that while some sports haven't had testing, I've been tested for years, in and out of competition. And third, I've always pushed the International Olympic Committee and the Tour de France to increase testing. What other athlete do you know who has donated money to his sport's governing body to pay for drug controls?
PLAYBOY : How many pro cyclists use performance-enhancing drugs?
ARMSTRONG: : I don't know. I like to think the sport is cleaner than its reputation. The head medical inspector for the Tour de France tells our team, "Guys, you're so dominant, I'm suspicious too. But I'm the one screening the blood and urine samples, and they are pure as driven snow." If we can do it, why can't everybody else? But you'll always find athletes looking for shortcuts. It's ironic that cycling has done more than any other endurance sport to test them, and when you test you're going to catch some guys. But every time you do, some fucker is sure to write, "Look how dirty the sport is!" That's the risk of testing.
PLAYBOY : Is your Discovery Channel team the only clean one?
ARMSTRONG: : The whole roster is 28 guys. Someone could be at home doing something that's not clean, but I don't think so. We screen our guys and pick the ones with integrity and talent. When you've got those two things, you don't need to take risks, and cheating would be a huge risk. It would jeopardize the entire program, our $15 million-a-year baby. If one of us gets popped, we all go home. Nobody wants that.
PLAYBOY : How many drug tests have you taken?
ARMSTRONG: : Maybe 200 in the past six or seven years. Not as many before that because I wasn't as successful. Maybe 100. So the total is around 300.
PLAYBOY : For the record, how many of those tests were positive?
ARMSTRONG: : Zero.
PLAYBOY : Do you worry about sabotage? Could somebody spike your blood or urine?
ARMSTRONG: : I worry about that every day. They could spike your food or the water you drink.
PLAYBOY : Some cyclists train by sleeping in an "altitude tent" with thin air that helps thicken the blood. It's a legal way to make your blood more efficient. Have you got one?
ARMSTRONG: : A tent's not big enough. I've got an altitude cubicle.
PLAYBOY : You sit in there and work on a computer?
ARMSTRONG: : No, you sleep in it. We sleep in it. We can get Sheryl's whole bed in there.
PLAYBOY : So in a virtual sense you've joined the mile-high club.
ARMSTRONG: : Oh, I've joined that club in a literal sense.
PLAYBOY : Boxers avoid sex before a fight. But the Tour de France lasts almost a month. What happens?
ARMSTRONG: : It's safe to say there's very little sex going on during the Tour de France, if any. Coaches and team directors would prefer you didn't have sex all year.
PLAYBOY : Your coach, Chris Carmichael, has said you're not unique as a physical specimen but that you're pretty special. Isn't your heart 30 percent bigger than normal?
ARMSTRONG: : It's bigger. And my muscles supposedly produce less lactic acid. But you know what's interesting? There's a big artery that runs from the middle of your body to your lower half, down to your legs. I had some scans done, and the doctors couldn't believe it: My artery is three times the size of a normal person's.
PLAYBOY : You used to play a lot of golf, but then you quit. Why?
ARMSTRONG: : Why? Because I suck.
PLAYBOY : You alluded earlier to your divorce. Do you see it as a failure in your life?
ARMSTRONG: : Yes.
PLAYBOY : The biggest one?
ARMSTRONG: : Yes and no. Our marriage and divorce wasn't a total failure, because we wanted children, had children and love them deeply. Kristin and I aren't husband and wife, but we'll always be mom and dad, and we work on that.
PLAYBOY : She's a devout Catholic, and you're not religious. You also differ in that respect with President Bush, a man you've known since he was governor of Texas.
ARMSTRONG: : I have to be careful here. I like the president. He is a deeply spiritual man. And I don't know if that spirituality has any place in the highest office. Having said that, I think the majority of the country disagrees with me on this.
PLAYBOY : Doesn't every leader say he's got God on his side?
ARMSTRONG: : Exactly the point. The beliefs of the president and of mainstream America are not necessarily shared by people around the world. We can't force our beliefs and our freedoms on others. I mean, there are a billion Muslims in the world. There are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, hundreds of forms of religion, and none of us is right or wrong. I think we need a serious line between church and state.
PLAYBOY : Do you and Crow discuss getting married?
ARMSTRONG: : Do people discuss that? I thought the guy just asked the girl.
PLAYBOY : That's the old-fashioned way.
ARMSTRONG: : Sometimes the girl puts on a little pressure. The other day I heard about a girl who asked the guy to marry her. How do you like that?
PLAYBOY : What would you say?
ARMSTRONG: : We actually talked about that. Sheryl said, "Don't worry. I won't ask you to get married."
PLAYBOY : Your father took off before you ever knew him, and you've said you don't want to know him. You dismiss him as "the DNA donor." But what if he gave you your physical attributes?
ARMSTRONG: : I don't think he's athletic. All I needed was my mom, who got pregnant at 17 and never quit on her baby -- me. My mom was against quitting anything. She was stronger than most mothers and fathers together. I thought of her during my first pro cycling event, when I finished 111th out of 111 finishers. But about 200 guys started, so there were 80 or more quitters. At least I didn't quit.
PLAYBOY : Growing up without a dad around must have been tough. Did you have the birds-and-bees talk with your mom?
ARMSTRONG: : Never had one.
PLAYBOY : Did you feel cheated? Did that slow your development?
ARMSTRONG: : Probably. You know when you're 11 or 12 and kids play truth or dare or spin the bottle? You have to kiss a girl and then French kiss a girl, and man, you don't want to mess up your first time. That's pressure. I really wasn't up to speed in those games. But the way things turned out, I can't complain.
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