All would seem perfect for the man of spokes and steel. But this is Lance Armstrong, mere mortal. So naturally, the Longhorns are shellacked, 24–7.
Three days later comes the New York Times report in which two of Armstrong’s former cycling mates admit that they used performance-enhancing drugs during the ’99 Tour de France. Armstrong calls the article a “hatchet job.”
Of course, his best buddy’s got his back. “The French have been after him for eight years,” McConaughey says, a rare smudge showing in his easygoing veneer. “That’s the longest war they’ve ever fought, trying to bring him down with that bullshit.”
This time it’s Armstrong who tosses a Zen-like gauze over the situation. “There are people who, under this pressure, would crack, but the fact is, they’ve chased and chased and I’ve never gone away,” he says. “They’ve caught everybody before me; they’ve caught everybody after me. They’ve chased me for years, and they got nothing. That’s a pretty big eff-you right there.”
As if to make the point, Armstrong excuses himself to the bathroom. After a few minutes he comes back with a giant smile on his face: “It’s nice to be able to take a leak and not worry about somebody busting in and wanting a sample.” He zips his fly and laughs. “Although you never know.”
There’s a calmness, a confidence, that comes with being the best. With being invincible. Armstrong knows it well. And for a few seconds, that glow returns. But just as quickly, it’s gone. He’s got to go running. Got to get his mile time under eight minutes for the Marathon. Got to shoot for something.
Because losing to the Kenyans is one thing. But if Lance Armstrong—ex–elite athlete, ex-conquerer of hot rock stars—loses to Bob, the suburban shlub with the beer gut and the back hair? Well, this whole retirement thing might need to be rethunk.