Armstrong won the next stage, the first of the two time trials, in Roanoke, and increased his lead over Ekimov by eight seconds. Not only did Armstrong wear the race leader's yellow jersey, but he also would have to run into sudden trouble to lose it. He would spend the race's final six days worrying what that trouble could be. "Anything could happen," he said in Roanoke. "There could be an injury. There could be a crash. Anything."
Every day the grandstands at the start and finish were moved to new sites, everything disassembled and packed into trucks and then reassembled at the new location. The race has become a $7 million operation since its first two years as the Tour de Trump. The quality of the field has improved, but that did not seem to matter to the people along the route in the small towns and the midsized cities. Every day they waited for Armstrong.
"A lot of people said that when Greg retired, that would be it for American cycling," said race organizer Mike Plant. "They asked who'd be the next American. Well, here he is."
Armstrong worried himself through a rainy day into Asheville, N.C., staying in front of the peloton during some slippery descents simply to stay away from crashes. He worried so well on the 120-mile climbing stage to North Carolina's Beech Mountain on the 10th day of the race that he worried himself to the front at the end of the stage, with Ekimov fifth, a minute and two seconds behind. He was still worrying—but not a lot—when he reached the final stage on Sunday. It was the second time trial and covered 30 miles, from Burlington, N.C., to Greensboro. Armstrong started the day 3:55 ahead of teammate Andrea Peron, who was in second place, and 4:05 in front of Ekimov, who was in third. Basically, all Armstrong had to do was sit on the bike, pedal and not fall down.
"I'll be conservative," he promised before the start. "I'll go all out on the flat stretches, but I'll back off on the turns."
The format for the time trial sent Armstrong, as the race leader, off last. The 11 previous days of hard work had left him feeling stiffer than he wanted to be. As he rode the course, the splits from Ekimov's ride were relayed back to him. Each split was worse for Armstrong. Ekimov was ahead by 45 seconds, a minute, a minute and a half. Ah, but every announcement came as Armstrong was closer to the line. By the finish he had lost 2:05 of his lead, but he still was the winner of the Tour DuPont, by two minutes over Ekimov and 2:56 over Peron.
"It's as big as anything I've ever won," Armstrong said. "I won the world championship two years ago, but that was a one-day race. This was over a number of days. And this was here."
At the victory ceremony, flanked by his Motorola teammates, the American sprayed the American crowd with a large bottle of domestic champagne and took the announcer's microphone and asked the people to "give it up for these guys, come on, give it up." The crowd, in the shadow of a Holiday Inn, with a good view of a J.C. Penney's department store, applauded loudly. They gave it up.