My week with Lance Armstrong

Phinney checks out Armstrong's crib. Not a bad way to kick of your Cyclingnews diary, is it?

Sometime in November, I got an invite from Lance to come train with him and Levi [Leipheimer] in Santa Rosa in December. Not only would I be training with LA himself, but we were scheduled to stay in Robin Williams' house. Yes, Robin Williams the Actor/Comedian. I know, right?

Of course, as I'm sure anyone else would have, I agreed. I invited my good friend and now teammate Ben King to come along with, just so I had a ride buddy for when Lance and Levi wanted to set fire to the roads. As the days ticked down to December 13th, the day I was to leave, we learned that it was to be rainy and not so awesome in Santa Rosa, so Lance called an audible and decided to stay in Austin, inviting me and Ben to stay down at his guesthouse. I thought, 'Hey, it's not quite Robin Williams' pad, but it will have to do.' I'm kidding.

I was equally, if not more stoked to stay in Lance's guesthouse. Little did I know, I was about to be spoiled beyond my years.

I arrived in Austin in mid-afternoon on the 13th of December. It had been 80 degrees that day, something I was in no way used to, being from wintery Colorado, but something I was definitely looking forward to. I got a call from his driver Vanessa when I landed and we agreed to meet out front. Moment of spoiling number one: Lance has his own driver. Sweet. We had a good chat on the way to 'the Crib', and I was already enjoying myself.

An easy way to see Lance's house would be to check out the issue of Architectural Digest where I believe it was featured on the cover. I could start to describe it for you, but I have a max of 1000 words on this little entry so I'll give you the short version. When you have two gates to your house, you know you are pretty legit. Depending on which one you enter, you will either be taken to the 3+ car garage attached to the guesthouse (which is about as big as my house – and we have a pretty big house). Or, you're taken to the main house.

 

The best way to describe the main house is Perfection (yes, with a capitol P). It is not too big, and definitely not small, but a perfect size with open rooms filled with very cool (and very pricey) artwork. Every room seems to have its own purpose, but it really is just a perfect house. That's as far as I will go.

I was to stay in the guesthouse, along with Ben who was arriving a couple days after me. Lance was doing a core workout when I got there so I began unpacking my bike. I was almost done when I hear a "Hey, Hood Rat! Where are you?" Yes, my nickname is Hood Rat. It's a long story. He welcomes me, lets me know that dinner is at 7 and that we are taking the GTO. The GTO would be moment of spoiling number two. 'I love it here' I think to myself.

Lance's girlfriend, Anna Hansen, was at the house staying for a while, too. Let me just take a second to let y'all (yes, I just said y'all) know that I truly love this girl like an older sister. Anna is one of the coolest people I've ever met and I am very happy to call her a good friend. I met her for the first time in Aspen in September, when I was up there training with L. She, without doing much training, did both the Leadville 100 and the 12 hours of Snowmass solo. Yeah, I told you she was pretty cool.

Anyway. It was a beautiful evening in Austin and we all hopped in the GTO convertible to go hit the town. There's nothing like driving a convertible in the middle of December. I think his GTO is a car that Sheryl Crow pimped out for him or something like that, but don't quote me, that is just what I heard. All I know for sure is that it is sweet. We got some dinner and just hung out and did some catching up. It was the best time I've had as a third wheel that I can remember. Guess who got to drive the GTO home?

Me.

Damn right! It was sick.

The next day we had a 5 hour "easy" ride. I rode in shorts and a jersey for the first time in a while, and my average at the end of the day was 230W. I've had races where I have averaged 250 for three hours, just to put that in perspective. Not so "easy" for me. But hey, I'm not Lance.

I got some interesting news at the beginning of the ride that I was 99% sure was a joke, but turned out not to be. As we were rolling out Lance turns to me and says: "Wanna hear something interesting?"
"Yeah. What?" I reply.
"Anna is pregnant."
Long pause, enhanced by a very confused facial expression. "What?? Are you joking?" I ask.
"Nope." He laughs. "Dead serious. We're pretty stoked about it!"
"Wait a second, I read your book, aren't you supposed to be…"
"Sterile? Yup. It's a miracle!"
"What the… That's insane! How does that even happen!??"
I was in awe. Lance proceeded to make fun of the face I had made when he told me.

What a way to start a conversation. But sure enough, when we got back, I noticed Anna Banana had a little baby bump. Crazy. Even crazier, the baby had been conceived while I was training with him in Aspen in September. Yes, I know. I am a part of this miracle. Sweet.

The next few days were a bit chilly, so we did some riding inside at Kevin Livingston's Pedal Hard studio in Mellow Johnny's basement. Ben got to Austin on the 15th and it was nice to have a fourth wheel to hang out in the guesthouse with. Ben is a really good guy, and super strong; one of those raw talent/diamond-in-the-rough kind of guys. Plus, we get along great.
The guest house
Photo ©: Taylor Phinney (Click for larger image)

As you may or may not know, Lance is really big into Twitter. Twitter is a social networking site that is very simple and purely asks you what you are doing. People can therefore follow you and know what you are "doing." Anyhow, Lance updates this thing at least twice a day, and got both Ben and I hooked.

At first I gave him some crap for it, mainly due to the fact that the only people I knew on Twitter were middle-aged women. But now I realize how great of a tool it is. I, for one, am definitely not very good at maintaining long distance relationships, and now, thanks to Twitter I don't have to worry so much anymore. All I have to do is update what I'm doing a couple times a day and BAM! Less time is spent on Skype, and more time is spent writing diaries for Cyclingnews. Thank you, Twitter.

On a more serious note, it is very useful for Lance. Throughout the Tour run he was always the guy who you never saw or heard of, and who, when not racing, you thought was locked up in an underground vault doing some crazy new wind tunnel testing or something along those lines. But now, thanks to Twitter, people know what he's up to and he has this whole new human aspect to him that nobody has ever seen before. I told him that on the last day of the '09 Tour when he's is riding into Paris with his 8th Yellow jersey, he should give me a Twitter shoutout from the car.

Look for it. Join the 20,000 followers he has already amassed.

Over the next few days Ben and I enjoyed stories of the famous celebrities Lance has "hung out" with. We got to go out to the 12 million dollar Ranch for a couple of days, and we just bro'd out in the lap of luxury. It was the beginning of the end for me. I was to be spoiled beyond my capacity.

A month later, sitting in my room at the Austin Extended Stay America at Trek Livestrong's team camp, writing this passage to you all, I am still recovering.

Stay tuned for the rest of the trip.

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