Riding Solo

updated 03/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

They were—are?—the triumph couple. After beating testicular cancer, cyclist Lance Armstrong, nurtured and supported by his wife, Kristin, won the Tour de France four times. Back home in Texas, she used his frozen sperm—and endured in vitro fertilization—to bear three healthy children.

But staying married may prove their toughest struggle yet. Citing unspecified domestic troubles, the Armstrongs, both 31, announced their separation on Feb. 21. "We are working through these sensitive issues," they said in a statement, "in the same way we have met other challenges in our life: together, with determination and dedication."

The pair haven't lived together since late January, when the Austin-based champion moved to the family's retreat southwest of the city; on Feb. 24 he left for Spain to begin training for the European season. Indeed, Lance's regimen may be partly to blame for the break-up. In journals Kristin posted on Lance's Web site, she has chronicled the difficulty of shuttling Luke, now 3, and 15-month-old twins Grace and Isabelle between homes in Austin, France and Spain. One night in Spain last spring, "I was...scrubbing pots like a woman possessed, trying to drown out a 'dual winding-down crying jag' and dreaming of going to Jamaica, alone," she wrote. "Sometimes I get so busy doing for everyone else that I forget what I think is fun."

Kristin and Lance met in January 1997, shortly after he went into remission, at a press conference for his foundation. "I know I'm supposed to say the light changed when I saw her, but actually it didn't," Lance wrote in his autobiography of the then-public relations exec. "I just thought she was smart and pretty. She told me later her first impression of me was equally inconsequential." But by summer both knew it was love, and they wed in May 1998. Now, it seems, they are no longer pedaling in tandem. "Life is hard," says Lance's friend David Shiflet. "I hope everything works out for them."

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