Oprah: If you were to step outside your life and be an observer, would you define what you've done as heroic?
Lance: If I knew about the diagnosis and how hard the Tour de France is, I'd say it was pretty extraordinary. But I can't bring myself to say "heroic."
Oprah: Your mother was only 17 when you were born, and you grew up fatherless. I've interviewed so many people who are still sick at heart because of the lack of connection to a primary parent. Have you yearned for a relationship with your dad?
Lance: If the opportunity came, I wouldn't say "Absolutely not." But I don't sit awake at night longing. Never did. My mom was such a strong character. I don't want to say she was like a man, but she was tough. All the things you're supposed to learn in order to be good at sports—toughness, hard work, willpower—she taught me.
Oprah: When did you start cycling?
Lance: At 15—there were cycling clubs on the weekends. Back then I was primarily a swimmer. I'd swim an hour and a half in the morning, then two hours in the evening. I joined the swim team when I was 12, and I was the worst kid in the pool—I was put with a group of 7-year-olds. I look at my son now and think, "If I threw him in a pool and he had to swim with kids half his age, he'd never do it." But for some reason I just did.
Oprah: Were you embarrassed?
Lance: Never. I improved quickly. I didn't think I'd be an Olympic swimmer, but I was determined to get better.
Oprah: When you began cycling, weren't you competing with much older men?
Lance: Anyone could come for the group rides, so my buddies and I were with local and even regional racers. There we were at age 15, duking it out with these guys. At that point, I thought, "Maybe I'm pretty good at this bike thing." I started competing—just short races. A few years later, I began devoting all my time to the sport.
Oprah: In the early years, you had a reputation for being cocky. Were you?
Lance: Probably. But you know what? It's tough to be a 15- or 16-year-old athlete competing around the country. There's tension, there's media. I had no idea what I was getting into. If someone says, "You want to be on TV? We're going to interview you," a kid will just get up there and pop off. That's about being young. As you grow up, you evolve.
Oprah: You've said that at some point you started listening to what the other cyclists were telling you.
Lance: Yes. I'd always been an individualist, but cycling is really a team sport.