In the third incarnation of a career interrupted by cancer, then a 3-1/2 year retirement, Lance Armstrong says he is a milder, nicer guy.
Gone is Angry Lance, the hard-eyed, hard-bitten competitor who often argued with the media and fans and cut an image of remoteness and inaccessibility.
Throughout the Tour Down Under, his first competitive stage race since mid-2005, Armstrong has been what Aussies call "a good bloke," easily accessible to fans and even a friend to the media. The seven-time Tour de France winner took on an endless round of public activities in his Australian visit, visiting cancer sufferers in Royal Adelaide Hospital, talking with locals in cafes, joshing with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and signing more autographs than he can count.
Immediately before and immediately after every stage of the six-stage race, even in the punishing heat of a South Australian summer, he politely, even warmly answered questions from reporters. Not once did he duck a question, chew out a reporter or try to cut short an interview.
Armstrong acknowledged on Sunday, after the last stage of the race in which he finished 29th overall, that retirement had changed him, given him time to evaluate his career and develop a new perspective. More than 750,000 spectators watched the Tour Down Under and received him with unvarying warmth, but he knows that in Europe, particularly in France, his reception might be cooler. At 37, with few expectations from his comeback, with a baby on the way in June, he can live with that.
"When you step away from your sport you certainly have the opportunity to look at things from an objective standpoint," Armstrong said.
"I can look at my career, I can look at my relationship with the press, I can look at my relationship with the fans, I can look at my relationship with the peleton and you reassess these things. "My relationship with you guys (reporters) is a two way street. I understand you all have a job to do. If I finish the race and jump in my car and get the hell out of here you're standing there going 'well I've got to make something up' and that's not good for you, because you have to make a lead, and it's not good for me because inevitably they're not positive pieces.
"So I've learned that it's better to just hang with you guys for 10 minutes, give you the material you need then get on about our day."
Armstrong is comfortable that the comeback he planned in August, to the immense surprise of the cycling world, is on track toward his lofty ambition of winning an eighth Tour de France. "It's given me a reassurance that I can still race because...you're out 3-1/2 years, you don't know how the body deteriorates or gets older," Armstrong said.
"It reassures me that I can work hard and do the right work and I can still race at the highest level."