The four-time Tour de France winner has ridden to fame and fortune on the skinny tires of a road bike, but now he's getting his kicks on knobby tires and running shoes.
He recently won this year's Austin Dirty Duathlon a rugged 3-mile trail run followed by a 12.3-mile mountain bike ride and another 3-mile run and plans to enter a cyclocross race this month.
Cyclocross is like steeplechase on two wheels: Riders traverse an often muddy or icy course studded with barriers that require them to dismount and carry the bike, then jump back on and continue racing.
When asked about the finer points of his dismount-remount technique, Armstrong says, ''I'll just jump off and run.''
It should be noted that before he was a superstar cyclist, Armstrong was a world-class junior triathlete.
Armstrong's dirty deeds are informal preparation for his attempt to reach a record-tying fifth consecutive Tour win. His U.S. Postal Service teammates have been in Austin for casual training rides, including mountain bike sessions on private trails their captain has cut into his Texas Hill Country ranch.
Now 31 and the father of three, Armstrong is discovering what many recreational athletes know all too well.
''With my busy schedule, it's hard to find time to fit in my training,'' he says. ''It is a daily challenge.''
He spent much of the last week on the East Coast, attending a meeting of President Bush's cancer advisory committee in Washington, D.C., jetting back to Austin for the Dirty Duathlon, then flying to New York for a slew of media appearances after being named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
''It is a big honor, no doubt,'' Armstrong says. ''But I didn't spend a lot of time worrying about it. It is one of those things I don't have a lot of control over. I can prepare for a race, but this is not like that.''
In 1999, the year he came back from near-fatal testicular cancer to win his first Tour, SI tapped the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team. The next year, another win in France, but Tiger Woods got the nod.
In 2001 he grabbed yellow jersey number three, but Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were picked.
''I guess a lot of it depends on what kind of year everyone else had,'' he says. ''If Tiger had won every tournament, he'd probably get it.''
Greg LeMond didn't get the honor in 1986 when he became the first American to win the Tour, but his comeback from an accidental gunshot injury to win in 1989 was good enough for SI.
''Greg winning it was a big moment in cycling,'' Armstrong says. ''And it came before all the newspaper coverage and live TV broadcasts we have now.''
Ironically, he didn't get the nod as 2002 International Cyclist of the Year from VeloNews Magazine, a distinction he earned in 2000 and 2001. World champion Mario Cipollini won that title.
''I guess VeloNews didn't like me this year,'' Armstrong says with a laugh.
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