Way back, long before the six tour wins, years before his battle with cancer, and even before he became a pro cyclist, a 17-year-old Lance told me, "The only thing that counts is winning, and if something goes wrong I get furious." He was talking about having taken second at the finals of the 1986 IronKids Triathlon Championships three years earlier. Most kids that age would have been thrilled to finish second at a national competition, but Lance's intense eyes stared off into infinity, his taut body screaming with frustration. He had been, he said, "pretty bummed out."
That unwillingness to accept anything short of victory, that underlying fury, is a fundamental building block of Lance's bottomless motivation (and, studies have shown, in the motivation of many winners), and you can see it still in everything he does in life, from driving a car to battling cancer to, of course, racing. Take the 160-mile Liège–Bastogne–Liège classic in April 2003: A 31-year-old Lance made a bold attack and appeared to be headed for victory – until a small group of riders caught and passed him with four miles to go. On finishing 50 seconds behind the winner, a stone-faced Armstrong stalked straight to his team bus with nary a word for reporters. How does he keep summoning that intensity even now, after all his success? Quite simply, says teammate Floyd Landis, Lance's man Friday at the 2004 Tour, "He's obsessed with winning."