Sheryl Crow in the Hot Seat

Sheryl Crow (search) spent much of the last year and a half supporting her blazingly successful fiance, bicyclist Lance Armstrong (search), as he won his sixth and seventh Tours de France (search).

Next month, Armstrong will take a turn on the sidelines, cheering Crow on as she performs across the U.S. next month. Call it the Tour de Sheryl.

Crow will be supporting her new CD, "Wildflower," which came out Tuesday, and she'll be ending her roster of shows with two dates at New York's Avery Fisher Hall on Oct. 30 and 31.

As most of America knows, Crow, 43, and Armstrong, 34, plan to marry next spring. The blissful pair began dating in 2003, after they met at a charity event in Vegas.

Crow believes in karma -- right down to punishment for illegal downloaders -- and for the last four years she has been meditating twice a day, having taken lessons from many teachers, including Sharon Salzberg, who's written about Buddhist techniques as well as "a wonderful guy in the Catskills."

The Post caught up with Crow after a sound check for her appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman." ("It's so freezing over there!" she says.)

Her new CD takes its title from her close relationship with Armstrong's three small children from his previous marriage -- she sees their innocence as flower-like. The Armstrong kids live in Austin, where Lance shares joint custody with ex-wife Kristin.

Though her fiance, famously, went biking with President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch last month, Crow is strongly antiwar. Her new album, though more about feelings than politics, concludes with the lines, "Today, I saw the flag roll by/ On a wooden box/If it's true, we've lost our way ... Today, I saw the strangest thing/Then, what have we got."

The politically polarized pair will appear together on "Saturday Night Live" on Oct. 29 -- he's hosting, she's the musical guest.

Q:Has your romance with Lance influenced your work?

A:Being in a new partnership definitely informed the tone of my new record. I think when you're in a new relationship you sort of meet yourself and you see the best of yourself and sometimes the worst of yourself. There are definitely songs -- especially "I Know Why," "Wildflowers" and "Always on Your Side" -- that are steeped in vulnerability. He and I are very proud of our relationship.

Q:You're very close to Lance's kids, right?

A:Yes. In fact, the title track, "Wildflower," is a metaphor for his children. When you're around kids you're reminded of the goodness that is in you that you learn how to create a shell around. I guess it's metaphorical. Having a flower grow up in the middle of a construction site -- it's a reminder that in all of us there is that innocence and that beauty and we sort of unlearn it along the way.

Q:Tell us about your meditation practice.

A:It definitely changed my life. I'm a person that spins a thousand plates at a time. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and all those that were enlightened. I wouldn't say necessarily that I'm a strict Christian. I'm not sure I believe in heaven.

Q:Though you've gone on record as saying the "religious right" endangers the country, right?

A:I don't believe that religion should ever dictate policy in our country. Just the idea of who are the infidels, you know, this war sort of seems to be about that. I do believe that God is a benevolent being, whether it's Allah or the Christian god. On "Wildflower," there are a couple of songs that were extremely inspired by the religious movement to the right in America and just the idea of what is God and what are we really fighting over and whose god is the right god. That inspired the song "Letter to God." We seem to have lost the plot. A lot of people think the war is just based on greed.

Q:Has all the time you've spent overseas for the Tour de France influenced your views?

A:We're perceived in Europe pretty heavily as being arrogant and imperialist and I don't think Americans are innately that way. I think it's the circumstances.

Q:What about the allegations in the French press about Lance's use of performance-enhancing drugs?

A:It's egregious. It was a slow news month, and the "L'Equipe" newspaper [that made the doping claims] is owned by the same people that own Tour de France.

Q:So what's this we hear about Lance getting back in the saddle?

A:He's really retired!

Q:Lance is nine years younger than you. Do friends kid you about robbing the cradle?

A:They wouldn't be friends of mine if they joked about it.

Q:Tell us about your wedding plans.

A:For me, it's most important that his kids be there. It's their wedding, too; we'd like to do it outside.

Q:You've been quoted as saying you're content to follow Lance around and "wash his bike shorts." Really, how can two such powerful personalities -- each in a different spotlight -- successfully negotiate a relationship?

A:In Europe, it really is like being with a rock star: He's so important to so many people. He's actually bigger than any rock star I've ever known. And I know a lot of rock stars.

The score

Birthdate: Feb. 11, 1962, in Kennett, Missouri

First group: Cashmere, a cover band -- Crow sang with them while she was in college.

Big break: She scored a spot as backup singer for Michael Jackson on his "Bad" tour. Reportedly, she was asked to only make eye contact with Jacko on stage.

Engagement: Armstrong popped the question while they were in an out-of-gas boat on a lake in Sun Valley, Idaho. "Far from feeling stranded, Lance seized the 'too-perfect' moment to propose."

Outspoken: In 2003, Crow wore an anti-Iraq-war T-shirt on "Good Morning America."