Lance Armstrong greeted me at the front door, barefoot, holding a glass of Cabernet. Though we’re neighbors among the rolling hills of Austin, Texas, we’re not especially close. Occasionally we bump into each other around town and talk about politics. We are, in other words, acquaintances. So when he invited me to dinner in mid-August—at my instigation—my plan was to discuss the Olympics and his future in Texas politics. Armstrong insisted he had something important he wanted to tell me in confidence.
Since I know Armstrong’s disdain for small talk, I was somewhat taken aback when the world’s top anti-cancer advocate (and seven-time winner of cycling’s premier race, the Tour de France) immediately launched into a diatribe about recent charges in the press—first printed in our local paper, the Austin American-Statesman—that he was the single largest consumer of water in town, with most of his habit (222,900 gallons in June alone) going to maintain the greenery around his three-acre estate. He complained that the paper had invaded his privacy zone by splashing across its front page an aerial photo of his Spanish colonial mansion, all 8,000 square feet of it.
“That bothered me, ’cause it’s my home,” he said, offering up tuna-tartare hors d’oeuvres and pouring generously from an uncorked wine bottle. (In collaboration with a friend, Armstrong has his own boutique label.) In Austin, the eco-capital of Texas, residents tend to favor native plants and wildflowers to the sculpted...