Vanity Fair was forced to release their October Lance Armstrong story much earlier than they wanted to, thanks to the leaked stories about the 7-time Tour de France winner's pending return popping up online. The story is a long, personalized feature written by Douglas Brinkley, a native Texan, who seems dumbfounded by the news of Armstrong's intentions. Brinkley was apparently expecting Armstrong to share his political aspirations or some more dire circumstances about his battle with cancer. Nope, the guy just wants to race again.

For a moment I gaped at him. Was I being punked? (Armstrong would later tell Doug Ulman, the president and C.E.O. of L.A.F., that my eyes bulged into saucers, like some boinged-out character in a Ralph Steadman illustration.) As the news sank in, though, I realized he was deadly serious. I knew from Armstrong’s memoir, It’s Not About the Bike, that his VO2 max (the gauge by which the human body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen is measured) is superhuman, his ship-sail lungs uncommonly efficient. But at age 37? A 2,000-mile, 23-day race, much of it uphill? By next July? I asked him, rather ungraciously, if he wasn’t too old to get back into shape that quickly. He laughed. And he was off and running. “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event [freestyle], the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon [Constantina Tomescu-Dita, of Romania] was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32. “Ultimately, I’m the guy that gets up. I mean, I get up out of bed a little slow. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I mean, my back gets tired quicker than it used to and I get out of bed a little slower than I used to. But when I’m going, when I’m on the bike—I feel just as good as I did before.”

So, he's officially back. Vanity Fair did have the story first, I guess, but it was broken to the world by cycling magazine VeloNews. (Did VF really think this wasn't going to get out before their story hit the newsstands?) But Armstrong's return will be heavily scrutinized and Tour officials insist that just because Lance passed all the drug tests the first seven times, it doesn't mean he's guaranteed a spot this time around, according to still-skeptical Race director Christian Prudhomme told ESPN. "All the Tour riders, and Lance Armstrong if that is the case, they will have to submit to rules that were harder than they were before, because it is necessary." Translation: Lance isn't winning this time around. Lance Armstrong Rides Again [VF]