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Tour de France

Future of Lance Armstrong

Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, July 26, 2004; 10:00 AM

What are your thoughts about the Tour de France? On Sunday, Lance Armstrong rode into history winning his record sixth Tour de France. The Texan, winner since 1999 after returning to cycling from a successful cancer treatment, is now noted one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Post columnist Sally Jenkins was online Monday, July 26, at 10 a.m. ET, to talk about Lance Armstrong and the outcome of the Tour de France.


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Jenkins has written five books, including "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" and "Every Second Counts" with cyclist Lance Armstrong.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Sally Jenkins: Hi all. Aren't we exhausted after three weeks of watching Lance work so hard?

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Colesville, Md.: Now that Lance is winding down his career, do you believe he will remain with the current team to help groom their future team leader? Who would you guess to be the future leader of the team?

Sally Jenkins: Yes. Just before the Tour began, Lance ensured that this team would survive without him on the bike, when he made a large multiyear sponsorship deal with Discovery Channel. Next year the Postal team will be intact but it will sponsored by Discovery. Lance has promised he will continue to ride next season with the team, tho not necessarily in the Tour. Also, he will do several broadcasting jobs for Discovery. But the main goal is maintain this wonderful dominant team, and find the next great young rider. Lance's ambition is for this team to win a Tour without him on the bike.
This team is very much handbuilt by him, and he is loathe to see it disintegrate. He wants it to become a permanent presence in cycling.

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Eastport, Md.: I understand that each Tour de France team has several additional drivers. Can you explain their role? I've seen that it is to make Lance look good, and that those who want to make a name for themselves have to move on. Also, Lance does not participate in many non-Tour events so that they can win money on their own. I've sure I've got much of this wrong. Can you explain how it works? Thanks.

Sally Jenkins: If by you mean other cyclists, yes, there are several additional cyclists on each team. A Tour de France team consist of nine riders, one of whom is designated the team leader. In the case of U.S. Postal that's Lance. However, his teammates are each capable of winning big races in their own right. Ekimov, for instance, won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney. George Hincapie is perhaps the most decorated American cyclist other than Lance or Tyler Hamtilton.
The cycling circuit includes many other prestigious races, and Lance's teammates compete in them. On occasion Lance has functioned as a support rider for them. That's why they are happy to help Lance and play support roles in the Tour. He helps their careers and they help his. It's much more of a team sport than people realize.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Why didn't Ullrich attack Basso on stage 18, the last stage prior to the Time Trial? Lance seemed to be offering the chance to move up in the ranks to Jan but Jan did not take the offer. Why not and was he worn out at that point ?

Sally Jenkins: Because Ullrich wasn't capable of attacking. He didn't have it in his legs. Ullrich's chronic problem is that he doesn't work quite hard enough in the offseason, and has a tendency to put on weight, and then has to lose it quickly. That's not the ideal way to prepare. He came into this race lean, but only because he had "crammed" for the test of the Tour. Cramming doesn't work. It's too grueling of an event; if you have a weakness it will show.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Assume Lance Armstrong retires from competitive racing in the next three years. Will his legacy be like that of Eric Heiden, or is he more likely to have a higher profile?

Sally Jenkins: Well, Heiden did some broadcasting but after cycling what he really wanted to do was go to Stanford medical school. Med students don't have time to be stars of stage and screen.
Lance's profile will probably be a little higher. He will do a lot of broadcasting and intends to remain active in cycling via actiong as a CEO for his team. Lance is a terrific executive, and cycling is his great love, and I would expect him to remain a very big influence on the sport.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: I read that virtually the entire USPS team is on one year contracts. In addition, next year, the team sponsorship is going to be picked up by Discovery Channel. With this uncertainty, how likely is it that next year's team would look anything like this year's team? Does the fact that Lance's agent is the CEO of the team help or hurt recruitment?

Sally Jenkins: They're on one year contracts because it's a questione each year of who is fit enough to ride in and complete the Tour, and also, who is willing to serve in a backup role to Lance. For instance, Floyd Landis may have an offer to leave the team and become leader of another organization. He'll have a very big decision to make. Postal will have to up the ante to keep him.

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Herndon, Va.: After winning the mountain time trial that extended his lead, Lance moved into second place for the King of the Mountain title.

Although the title was well within his reach, I imagine Lance didn't go for it out of some sense of sportsmanship. Is that and his focus on winning the event the reasons why he didn't challenge Virenque for the title? Personally, I would have liked to see Lance win the King of the Mountain, too, and really thumb it to the French.

Thanks in advance for your reply.

Sally Jenkins: Diplomacy is important in the Tour. You can't win it entirely on your own, you need the help of your own team, but also the help of your rivals. As we saw when Lance and the peleton refused to let Simeoni win a stage.
However, it's also a question of Lance marshalling his resources. It's a delicate balance: Lance said to me once, "You only have so many of those efforts in you, and you have to be careful." If he went for too many of those ferocious climbs he might jepardize his ability to finsih the race. Lance says when your body fails you, it's like falling off a cliff. We saw it happen to Indurain when he went for his sixth and failed on a mountainside.

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Hershey, Pa.: What is Lance's relationship with the other five time winners of the Tour?

Sally Jenkins: Interestingly, his relationship with the other five timers is excellent. He and Indurain and Merckx are great friends. Indurain and Eddie both visited him in austin when he had cancer. Champions recognzie and respect other champions. The only riders who have a problem with Lance are his inferiors. He and Ullrich get along very nicely too, by the way. Isn't it peculiar that the one champion who is critical of Lance is LeMond. I think that says more about Lemond than Lance.

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Wheaton, Md.: Sally,
What is the current buzz about the future stars of cycling? Many times this year, I have heard references to "passing the torch" on to the next generation of great riders and Armstrong, Virenque, Ullrich, and many others close in on the ends of their careers. I know Basso and Kloden have gotten a lot of attention, but this year's white jersey winner looked pretty good to me. Any thoughts?

Sally Jenkins: Basso looks like a future champ if he will learn to time trial. he had a chance to understudy with Lance this year instead of leading his own team, and chose the leadership role. But I think it would have been invaluable for him to learn from Lance about riding those time trials.
Kloden is real, Voekler is for real, Landis is VERY much for real -- look at his last time trial. And Sandy Casare (sp?) is very much for real. A big change is coming, that was clear from the podium and top 10 standings.

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New Bern, N.C.: Richard Virenque, who won his 7th straight King of the Mountains jersey this year, at age 35, was also extraordinary and may not be done again in my lifetime. He also has done very well in the time trials. In previous years, he has ranked up in the tour, but never a winner or even on the podium in the overall standings. Could you please explain why?
Fred

Sally Jenkins: Because he doesn't excel in other phases of the race, such as time trials. Time trials are where Lance has done some of his biggest damage to rivals. It helps on a mountainside when you've already got three or four minutes on an Ullrich because of time trial gains. It allowed Lance to slam dunk the competition in the Pyrenees, ended the race before it was supposed to begin.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Sally,

Were you a cycling fan before you linked up with Lance for his book? Do you ride?

Sally Jenkins: Knew nothing about cycling. Nothing.

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Baltimore, Md.: Lance appears respected by his competitors. His respect for the Tour and for the sport is obvious as well. I would have thought that all this garnered him a little more respect from fans. What am I missing? I understand the French have problems with Americans, and look for more panache and less Texas grit but what is up with the Germans spitting on him?

Greg LeMond seems to have a personal agenda. Is that correct?

Sally Jenkins: The Germans had been sleeping on that mountainside for a week. And kept everybody up til 3 a.m. with their singing. It was a drunk deal. You have to remember, Lance has broken Ullrich's heart SIX times now.
I can't imagine LeMond's agenda is anything other than personal. His timing seems malicious to me.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi Sally,

Nice columns on the Tour this year. The distinction between Armstong and Merckx (Eddy not Axel) has been made with many saying Armstong is the greatest Tour rider and Merckx the greatest rider. Does Armstrong feel pressure to ride other events (Giro or the Vuelta or the spring classics) so that he'll be considered alongside Merckx as the greatest rider in cycling history?

Sally Jenkins: I don't think he feels pressure, but he reveres the traditins and history of the sport. The Giro to cycling is sort of like the French Open to tennis. Sampras wouldn't have felt right if he had never played the French and tried to win it. Lance feels like same, I'm sure. ALso, he has a great chance. Six years ago he was fourth in the Vuelta without even training for it.
One difference between Eddie and Lance is that Lance is competing against 200 riders who benefit from the latest technology and training methods. Merckx competed against a smaller and less expertly professional group of rivals. I'm not sure it's possible to duplicate what Merckx did. You really have to focus solely on the Tour to win these days.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally,

Given Lance Armstrong's continued denial of using performance-enhancing drugs, is it fair to continue asking him about it (as the Today show did this morning)?

Sally Jenkins: Well, it's just reality. Lance knows that. He accepts it. Moreover, he takes responsibility for the honor of his sport. He believes there has been a very firm crackdown and that the sport is much cleaner than it used to be, but that it continues to be unfaily stigmatized by people like Dick Pound, head of the World Anti Doping organization, and by the way, a proven crank. Given the constant headhunting by WADA and USADA, it remains a lively topic, and as the champion of his sport Lance is obliged to answer the questions.

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Romania: What chances are there that Armstrong will be one again competing in Tour de France next year?

Sally Jenkins: I think the chances are fifty fifty. I don't think he'll know the answer until next spring when it's time to give up everything to train again. He will see how his body and his spirit respond. One thing I do know: he won't do it if it means another three month separation from his children. That breaks his heart, and you can't ride in the Tour without your heart. He did it this year for history, but it really tortured him. Did you see how he couldn't keep his hands off Kloden's kid on the podium? He really misses his kids.

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Bethlehem, Pa.: Hi Sally,

I loved the books and your articles during the tour. In reading all the stories and listening to Phil Liggett and company, I'm left with the impression that Lance just outworks everyone on the tour. Are there any other riders that work as hard as Lance and just don't have the physical ability to compete with him, or is it just his sheer determination that makes him such a great athlete?

Joe Corcoran

Sally Jenkins: No. Nobody works as hard as he does. Nobody ever has, and it may that no one ever will. And it's not just the manual labor, it's the constant search for better techniology and training methods, the studying of the Tour route, the examining all of the crucial stretches of road down to the manhole covers. It's all consuming. I;ve never seen anyting like it. I once played golf with him and he spent the whole round on the phone looking for a faster pair of wheels. He missed every putt because he was cradling his cell phone to his ear.

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Hamburg, Germany: I would like to respond to the person asking "what is up with the Germans spitting on him". Well, probably the same that "is up" with drunken fans of the Boston Red Sox, Yankees, Giants, Eagles, etc. Why do some people insist on seeing more in sports that it really is? Is ANY fan behaviour truly rational? Relax, the world is not out to get you Americans.

Sally Jenkins: Excellent reply. It was alcohol fueled, and nothing I haven't seen at a Florida State football game.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you describe the crowd's reaction to Lance as he rides past? Does it change depending on the place?

Sally Jenkins: It changes depending on the locale. If he's near Belgium and beating a Belgian, it's less than enthusiastic. If he's near Spain and beating a Spaniard, same. But on the side of an Alp, everyone marvels at the effort. The main reaction in the mountain stages is a vast collective sympathy for all of the riders -- and a great sense of encouragement. People try to get them up the hill with a giant roar. When he rides by and you see that his eyes are bloodshot because the blood vesels have burst from the effort, you can't feel anything but compassion and respect.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Sally:
Is it possible that Lance will skip the Tour De France next year after winning his 6th so easily this year? I understand that he wants to give some of the other traditional/classic races his time, but won't the lure of a 7th straight change his mind? And will it not be difficult to take a year off and risk the possibility of losing US Postal team members to other teams on the Tour?

Sally Jenkins: It's really all about his kids, to tell you the truth. He has to figure out if he can win another Tour without training in Europe quite so much. or if he can figure out a way to have his kids with him in Europe more without totally disrupting their lives. He told me yesterday, "If I love two things it's my chidren and cycling. I have to find a way to do both without one coming at the expense of the other. I'll find a way to make it work."

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Atlanta, Ga.: Thanks for taking some questions. I was wondering if in your time with Lance if you discovered why his former team mates seem to drop in thier performance after they leave the USPS team? Is this because of Lance or because of the coach? Thanks.

Sally Jenkins: Both. Postal is very demanding and they train like hell. Their methods are simply better than everyone elses, better bike, they know the stages better and have ridden them exhaustively. But I wouldn't say their performance drops. Tyler Hamilton came into his own without Lance. Same with Roberto Heras.

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Washington, D.C.: Lance is the Tour Champion for sure. But now that he has the media coverage, could he not do tremendous amounts more for American cyling if he participates in more headline races and we get to see "the boss" more than once a year in July?

Sally Jenkins: Yeah and I think he would like to do exactly that.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally,

While I am sure you don't know the specifics of Lance's contracts, I heard rumors that he made close to 30 million in bonuses for winning the Tour this year. Can you confirm or deny this?

Sally Jenkins: I really don't know. I'm sure he has incentives for every ICU point he earns.

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Washington (the state): While I'm thoroughly convinced that Lance isn't using EPO, the deaths of elite cyclists this past two years are getting pretty shocking. What do you think professional cycling should do to stem the use of performance-enhancing drugs?

Sally Jenkins: Well, Pantani didn't die of EPO, he died of a heroin overdose. Who else are you referring to?
The new test is pretty effective. I firmly believe that if you use EPO during the Tour, or in the immediate run up to the Tour, you have been caught. We've seen riders tossed for positive tests every year since it was instituted.

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Arlington, Va.: There has been lots of discussion about Lance's uniquely focussed and fanatical Tour training. Part of this, obviously, is that he has so far chosen to concentrate on the Tour rather than other races. But doesn't the body start to break down and get injured/sick at a certain level of training? Is he uniquely disciplined, uniquely ably to (physicically) withstand an unusually intense training schedule, or some combination? If his competitors wanted to train like he does, could they?

Sally Jenkins: Lance's training is based in large part on recovery. If you'd like read more about it visit the website of his trainer Chris Carmichael. Chris is a big believer that recovery is everything. His recovery methods are equal to the intensity of the workouts.
As for his counterparts, sure, they could train the way he does. But they don't.

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Arlington, Va.: Sally -- Do you know why Lance's children were nowhere to be seen during this year's Tour? He talks about them so lovingly in the second book you two wrote together -- and I have no doubt he loves them very much -- but they were noticeably absent from the festivities this year. What gives?

Sally Jenkins: They were home in Austin with their mother, Kristin. Where they belonged. Taking ballet and karate and swimming lessons. Lance recieved a warm email from Kristin before the Tour began, and his main goal for next season is to find a way not to be apart from them like this again.

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Pembroke Pines, Fla.: On a personal note, how did Lance meet Sheryl Crow and how long have they been dating. I read Lance lives near his kids, is he in the same town - is his ex-wife dating anyone, if you know.

Sally Jenkins: Lance met Sheryl Crow at Andre Agassi's annual charity gala fundraiser in Las Vegas. Sheryl was a performer and they met backstage. Lance has a house practically around the corner from Kristin. As for Kristin, her social life is none of our business. But she is lovely and I am sure she has many suitors.

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Arlington, Va.: Sally,

Since you knew nothing about cycling prior to the first book, was curious how you got matched up with Lance. Did the publisher recruit you?

Sally Jenkins: Lance felt very strongly that he wanted to work with a woman on his book. He's very close to his mother, and felt that Linda's struggles in raising him was a crucial part of the story. Also he believed that a male writer might have a more, um, coarse and self conscious view of testicular cancer.
The publisher contact my agent, and they set up a meeting. It didn't hurt that we're both from Texas, both like our cocktails, and that we laugh at all the same things.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally - Am a total addicted Lance fan. I am also a cancer survivor and he has been a great inspirtion to me. Tell us more about the yellow bracelet. Is it available locally?
Thanks - love your columns!;

Sally Jenkins: Go WearYellow.com, and you can buy all the yellow bracelets you want.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Sally, thanks for the chat and I hope you take this Q.

When Lance reacted quickly to chase after Simeoni last Friday, why didn't Lance's real competitors -- Basso, Kloden, etc. -- go after Lance Armstrong? Did they know that he will come back to the main group once Simeoni was restrained?

Sally Jenkins: Yes. They knew that Lance was just running Simeoni down, and was basically saying no one in this peleton is going to let you win a stage.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: It seems quite a few of Lance's teammates have left Postal to lead other teams, but so far none has managed a significant win. Is there something special about US Postal's training or use of resources that doesn't transfer to other organizations?

Sally Jenkins: Tyler Hamilton won the Dauphine last year as well as a stage in the Tour. But yes, Postal does things better than everyone else. They focus almost solely on the Tour, for one thing. No other team does that.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally,

Is it not true that in some of the very complicated physicals Lance has undergone that his body seems to have some of the most natural talent of any athelete ever tested? So winning the Tour must be from hard work, but he also is a freak of nature with his natural ability, correct?

Sally Jenkins: Yes. His heart is larger than normal, his resting heart rate is below 40, he produces less lactic acid than most people. He's the perfect cycling organism.

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Austin, Tex.: why didn't Kristen and the kids go over to Paris for the end of the race - I know Lance misses his kids but why not go over at least for the victory so he could share it with his kids?

Sally Jenkins: I don't know, that's Kristin and Lance's business. But I expect it had something to do with the kids schedules, and also with it being difficult for Kristin and Lance personally and emotionally. Give them a break. What do you expect, after a traumatic breakup and divorce?

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Princeton, N.J.: While the coverage by the Washington Post of the Tour was great, are you disappointed by the lack of TV coverage? I would think that with this momentous achievement, there would have been some network coverage, at least of the finish.

Sally Jenkins: I was stunned that OLN managed to miss Lance crossing the finish line. It was hilarious. as for the networks, who knows why they show what they show. It's not about journalism, it's about commerce.

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New York, N.Y.: Sally,

How is Kristin, Lance's ex-wife, doing? She still deserves a lot of credit for Lance's achievements. Much more than people think, I believe.

Roy

Sally Jenkins: Lance has always said that Kristin was a crucial facet of his success, wholly supportive and unselfish. He has tremendous respect for her.

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York, Pa.: It's been said that Lance has a private persona very different from his public face. I've always admired the restraint and diplomacy that Lance exhibits when responding to the controversies around him. Do you think it's true that, privately, he is spiteful or petty?

Sally Jenkins: He's always careful to be a gracious respectful winner. Privately he's more carefree, hilarious in fact, and irreverent. And much more resentful of some things privately, such as the lack of respect for him in cycling circles after his illness -- nobody thought he'd be worth a damn after cancer. That stayed with him. And doping accusations burn in his soul. But he tries to be measured about it in public.

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Princeton, N.J.: Who actually heads up the Postal team - is it like in other team sports, that there is a coach and assistant coach, etc. Who is that person and who decides what the training schedule will be.

Sally Jenkins: Johann Bryuneel is team director and makes those decisions, in concert with Lance.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally - Why did Lance and Kristn break up? They seemed so happy togeher from your books.

Sally Jenkins: They were overwhelmed. Tried to do too much too fast. Three kids, five Tours, fight cancer, constant travel, lots of separations, constant exhaustion. It got them in the end. They went numb. It was very sad for both of them, like getting carried away by a tide they were too tired to fight.

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Hershey, Pa.: What other athlete does Lance remind you?

Sally Jenkins: As an athlete, no one. Absolutely no one. He us unprecedented in my experience.
There's only one person he comes close to reminding me of personally, and that's Chris Evert, believe it or not. Because his grim personna in public is so different from his private personality. Chris is a very warm and irreverent person away from tennis, but was a cutthroat on the court. Lance is just like that. One person as a competitor, another as a human.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Ms. Jenkins,

Everyone seems to want to compare Lance's achievement to other great feats. Do you know how Lance feels about that? I know he's shied from comparisons to other athletes, saying he's "no good at ball sports."

Sally Jenkins: He feels it's "the toughest damn sports event in the world."

He's no good at ball sports, no. But anyone who sees his reactions on the bike -- like when he shot through that corn field last year and then jumped the ditch with his bike on his shoulder, knows that he's one extraordinary athlete.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally,
I have become captivated by the Tour. I cannot even imagine the drive it must take to train for the Tour and to push yourself that hard. What can you tell us about Lance's mental preparation and his physical preparation for this challenge?

Sally Jenkins: Physical training first: in addition to rehearsing all of the crucial stages exhaustively, he sleeps in an altitude tent, in order to build up his red blood cell production. (It's a legal way of doing, sort of, what EPO does). Also,he trains for long periods of time at high altitude.
Mentally, he finds an enemy. He focuses on somehting that makes him very, very angry. Skeptics. Doping accusations. The notion that Jan Ullrich might not have waited for him after he crashed last year. That sort of thing. FRankly, his critics play right into his hands. After Lemond said what he said, there was no way Lance was going to lose this tour.

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Pretoria, South Africa: Considering that you have worked with Lance Armstrong on two occasions and have vicariously crossed that finishing line in Paris several times, can you describe to us what you believe he is experiencing emotionally knowing that he has made history winning his 6th Tour de France?

Sally Jenkins: He is experiencing a kind of confusion. The trouble with records is that they're kind of cold. He's trying to feel what it means. What he really feels more than the record, is a deep love for his team. And a sense of completeness, and peace. I think he feels he's filled some large whole in himself, some hungry thing in the pit of him. I really wonder if he will race at this kind of peak again. But if he does, it will be because he loves that team, the companionship and effort, and would miss them too badly.

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New York, N.Y.: I am so impressed by Lance's ability as a strategists and leader as much as by his strength and skill. Do you think he plans his strategies to match his team and his current conditioning

Sally Jenkins: Yes, it's what makes him. Everything is integrated and precise and measured.

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Hershey, Pa.: Are you going to collaborate on another book on Lance?

Sally Jenkins: I think we're retired. I think we'd just like to be friends and laugh together now.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Sally-I remember back in the 1980s when I was living in Texas that Lance actually got his start in cycling as a triathlete, or at least that he competed successfully in junior categories in triathlons. Do you think he could have dominated that sport the way he domininates cycling? Has he ever expressed interest in returning to triathlons?

Sally Jenkins: He wouldn't have dominated triathlons because the running always got him. He was great at the swimming and biking.

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Washington, D.C.: Lance's team helped carry him to victory in this year's Tour. Can you tell us about the team, the challenges they faced in preparing for this year's tour. Who should we be watching next year?

Sally Jenkins: Floyd Landis and Jose Acevedo

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Crofton, Md.: Don't you think that Lance Armstrong's run in the Tour de France is more about his impact upon the sport because he really believes that "every second" does count. It is one heck of a motivator to be told you have the big "C" and your chances to become immortal are really tied to a defining memorable event as opposed to anything else. That is precisely why I do not believe that he uses any drugs - he is afraid of that image being tarnished. Do you agree?
- CSP

Sally Jenkins: He once told me, two years out from chemotherapy, how poisoned the cancer and the chemo made him feel, and that he was just starting to feel "clean again." I've never forgotten that, and how seriously he said it. For that reason it's very hard for me to believe he'd put anything dangerous in his body. I've said it before and I'll say it again:
I believe in Lance Armstrong as a man and as an athlete. He beat cancer straight up, fair and square, and I believe he has won six Tours exactly the same way.
Also, I love him as a friend.

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Sally Jenkins: Okay everyone. got to go. enjoyed it. Like the man says, Live Strong.

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