Evan Smith: Let me ask you, first of all, what may not seem like an obvious question: How’s your health?
Lance Armstrong: In terms of the cancer? As of the latest check, which was a few months ago, everything was perfect. When I give blood, they do a test that’s very specific to the sickness that I have, which is called choriocarcinoma. The test measures human chorionic gonadotropin levels. A perfect result is a reading of less than two. When I was first diagnosed, it was over 100,000. If I had a flare-up, it’s not as if it would go away. It’s very aggressive. So if I ever come in with four…
LA: Four turns to eight, eight turns to sixteen, and on it goes. And everybody would know, because I would quit everything I’m doing and go back into treatment.
ES: Is it ever on your mind?
LA: Eight and a half years later, I’m reminded of it every day. Even something as small as looking at a yellow wristband reminds me of my history. But it’s not a big fear of mine. I didn’t feel great on the bike today, but when I’m pedaling along and I don’t feel that good, I don’t think, “I’m sick.”
ES: Are there any lasting physical effects?
LA: No. The skin marks are gone. And, obviously, you get your hair back, and the body regenerates well.
ES: You mentioned the wristband. Could you have imagined in a million years what a phenomenon it would become?
LA: I thought two things when we first got into it: that Nike was incredibly generous and that they were a little crazy to make five million of them.
ES: Generous in the sense that even if the wristbands didn’t sell, Nike guaranteed $5 million to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
LA: They started off by giving us $1 million, so the guarantee was a total of $6 million. We could have been just shootin’ them at each other! I was talking to [former Nike CEO] Phil Knight, and he said, “Lance, you know what? I thought the same exact thing. I thought we were crazy.” And, you know, we’ve now sold more than 47 million.
ES: Why do you think they caught on?
LA: Have you read The Tipping Point ? Something happened along the way to tip it. I don’t know what it was, although I will say that Sheryl [Crow, his rock star girlfriend] wore it and talked about it on the Today show last year. And then came the Tour. I suppose the Olympics could have been the tipping point: You had Justin Gatlin wearing one during the 100-meter dash, but you also had [Hicham] El Guerrouj in the 1,500 meters. He’s arguably the greatest Muslim runner of all time, and he’d never won an Olympic gold. He crosses the finish line, and he kneels down to pray, and all you see is the yellow band on the guy. He was wearing two! It’s unbelievable.
ES: I’m thinking less about celebrities or athletes than average people who didn’t have publicists buying them wristbands, who didn’t appear in InStyle wearing one because it’s cool.
LA: Obviously, it doesn’t get to more than 47 million without the power of the people. Along the way it’s been people wanting them and buying them. I think we still sell 100,000 a day.
ES: Were you involved in the creation of the wristband beyond blessing it?
LA: I can’t take any credit. Nike had made the bands before, for basketball players, and they called them “ballers.” Before shooting a free throw, they’d snap them on the back of their wrists. So there was a meeting [at Nike] in which people were looking for ways to get involved with the foundation, and somebody in the room said, “Why don’t we take a baller”—which is ironic, if you think about it—“and make it yellow and put ‘LiveStrong’ on it?” And they did. I think the first big order was a million or a million and a half, and I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s a big commitment.” Then it just took off.
ES: How many have you personally gone through?
LA: The one I’m wearing is probably my third. My original one, the one I wore at the Tour and for a very long time after that, had a swoosh on it. I’m not cool enough now to have a swoosh on mine.
ES: Let’s address the elephant in the room: No regrets about your decision to retire? You’re certain this is what you want to do?
LA: One hundred percent.
ES: It’s really about wanting to spend more time with your kids? That’s all it is? Not that it isn’t enough.
LA: Well, it is enough. I’m sick of missing their lives. My kids split their time between me and their mother, so there will be times when I’m not with them, when I’ll work. I’m looking forward to that. And I’m going to be 34 years old this year, which is old for cycling. If I win the Tour this summer, I’ll be the oldest cyclist to do it in nearly sixty years.
ES: Do you feel 34 in cycling years?
LA: No, I still feel like I’m at the highest level. And I still feel like I could be for a couple of years.
ES: Any chance you’ll pull a Manny Mota and come out of retirement for one more race?
LA: That’s not going to happen. Forget it. I started doing this stuff when I was fifteen. It’s time to stop. Not that I will ever stop being an athlete. I will always be an athlete.
ES: Has it gotten harder to train? Would the ride you took today have been any easier a year or two years ago?
LA: I still hit it so hard that if I wasn’t interested or didn’t have the motivation or morale, I wouldn’t have done what I did