“He’s all tin cans and yarn,” Armstrong says of McConaughey. “I get shit on my BlackBerry. I get shit from my friends. My cell phone. Most of it is bullshit.”

Including reports that he hooked up with aristocretin Paris Hilton at Key Club during a late-night safari in L.A.: “That’s when I really knew that things had changed. Despite not being true and having no pictures to back it up, there it was in the New York Post.” He bites his lip and mutters a curse under his breath.

Letting go of an image paid for with sweat, blood, and one very well-publicized testicle is an obvious source of angst, so it’s fortunate that his best friend happens to be a man Armstrong describes as the “Redneck Buddha.”

“He’s got a good perspective on this whole thing,” Armstrong says. “His idea is like, ‘Look, it is what it is, so go out there and have fun.’ He’s truly carefree—which is to say, he truly doesn’t care.”

“Here’s the thing,” McConaughey explains. “A lot of people don’t understand friendship and brotherhood. I have a great friend in him. I’d do anything he asked me to, even though he’d probably never ask me to, and he feels the same way. It’s fun going out and living life and doing things at the drop of a hat. LiveStrong just happens to be the most deliberate guy I’ve ever met.”

But Armstrong is trying to live more at-the-drop-of-a-hat. After his breakup with Crow, his plan was to point his car toward Oregon and not stop driving until he got back in touch with himself. Instead came news of Crow’s breast cancer, and the head-clearing sabbatical came to an end. The frantic phone calls and status checks were all done through Crow’s parents and doctors, since the couple had decided not to remain in contact during her treatment.

Even now, it’s obvious Armstrong is still working through the fallout of such a public affair. “We couldn’t get it right, we couldn’t get it wrong,” he says. “Just a lot of back-and-forth. But we had a love for each other, and I think we still do.” Not that his current status as McConaughey’s wingman and all the free-spirited boozin’ and cruisin’ that that entails necessarily spell out midlife crisis.

“Midlife crisis?” Armstrong says with a laugh. “Man, I just bought a hybrid.”

There are 60 million Yellow LiveStrong bracelets wrapped tight around wrists the world over. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has 2.5 million people in its database. Armstrong rides bikes with the president, lunches with Hillary Clinton, chats on the phone with Bono and Bill.

Elite athletes have always had an easy time drawing a crowd. As one who was all but given a death sentence when his testicular cancer spread to his brain and lungs, Armstrong walks in a heady, influential circle. And yet his self-proclaimed war on cancer remains a struggle. Since he threw himself behind the cause, no significant financial progress has been made. Fund-raising dinners, fancy rubber bands, and rousing speeches net millions, but what Armstrong needs in order to make a difference is counted in the billions. He’s used to getting what he wants. But now that he’s a mortal again, he has to reacquaint himself with words like no and wait. For somebody who’s used to putting his head down and pumping his legs uphill to open impossible chasms between himself and his competitors, this is hard to accept.