Squeezed into a cramped and uncomfortably crowded corner of a side room at Violet Crown on the Santa Fe Railyard, Linda Armstrong Kelly eventually lost her direct line of sight to her son sitting not 25 feet away during the peak of Thursday’s early evening rainstorm.
That didn’t stop her from answering a couple of questions for him under her breath, though.
When asked who his childhood inspiration was, the worldwide sports personality that is Lance Armstrong rattled off a pair of names that didn’t exactly jive with his mother’s.
All she could do was smile and offer a little laugh no one standing outside of a few inches away could hear.
“I’m sure my mom probably told you this,” Armstrong said later, “but her next door neighbor is [Dallas Cowboys quarterback] Dak Prescott. A lot of people don’t know it, but he’s a super good guy with the kids in the neighborhood. I mean, he’s like a regular guy. Guys like that are the real inspirations.”
In a room fit for about 40 people, roughly 250 squished in to hear Armstrong talk about this year’s Tour de France, which starts Saturday. For more than 40 minutes, he sat at a table with longtime friend J.B. Hager to record a Tour preview show for their second annual podcast for the greatest race in cycling.
They even shared a few memories of Armstrong’s early days in New Mexico, a story from 1989 when he warmed up in the family car wearing his mom’s pink windbreaker before a race on a 30-degree day in Moriarty.
Armstrong said he has been to Santa Fe only 10 or 12 times, mostly using it as a way station as he drove between Austin, Texas, and his family home in Aspen, Colo.
He said he prefers green over red, has cast a savory eye at the Sangre de Cristos in hopes of one day riding through them and taken in the natural surroundings that make the town a unique destination spot.
“I haven’t pedaled around here much but, yeah, I’d love to,” Armstrong said.
His podcast is titled TheMove, and can be easily found on iTunes and most audio mediums. It had more than a half million downloads last year.
The show has more glitz and glamour this year, not to mention the gravitational pull that is Armstrong’s polarizing identity.
But, really, Thursday’s claustrophobic surroundings had less to do with his cycling fame and remarkable fall from grace, and more to do with the curious celebrity status that continues to draw people in. His first appearance in the room barely garnered a reaction as most people quietly watched him find his seat.
For more than half an hour after Thursday’s taping had wrapped, he chatted with fans one at a time, posing for photos and signing autographs.
“I love doing stuff like this,” he said as he said goodbye to a pair of middle-aged men. “People always have something to say.”
Armstrong admitted he is approaching a phase in his life where he’s enjoying the idea that not every single person recognizes his face the way they used to. He said he managed to take in his first game at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium last year and plans to do more of the same when his oldest son begins his college football career this fall at Rice.
Most people remember the man’s chiseled features and youthful appearance, the look he rode to seven Tour de France championships and became the backbone of seemingly countless endorsements and charitable causes. That face is still there; it’s just slightly disguised with the creases of age.
“Name-wise, no, that’s not possible to just blend in,” he said. “Just visually, probably. That’s because people have an image of me racing back in the day and now I have nothing but gray hair and look older. Now I can sneak around pretty well. But if you say the name, no matter where it is in the world it’s, yeah, still not possible to hide.”
Armstrong’s first 46 years were filled with unbelievable highs and lows. The next 46, he said, will perhaps bring something far different.
“Hopefully less eventful,” he said. “Between doing things like this and raising five kids, staying fit and growing this side of my life. That’s basically it. That’s hopefully it.”