WILMINGTON, Del. -- The Tour Du Pont covered 1,119.85 miles over the last 11 days, but in the end the international bicycle race came down to the final ticks of the clock on the last day.
When PDM rider Erik Breukink came across the finish line in the day's best time of 34 minutes, 52 seconds, he was sure he had failed in his mission to cut 50 seconds off leader Atle Kvalsvoll of Team "Z". When Kvalsvoll finished in 35:53, he was sure he had won the overall title.
Both men were wrong.
Breukink, recognized as the greatest time-trialer in the world, overcame a flat tire halfway through the 16-mile course to post a 12-second victory.
"I was very disappointed at first," admitted Kvalsvoll, who had held the leader's yellow jersey for the last six days. "But, I feel better now. To lose to Breukink is not too bad. After all, he is a rider capable of winning even the Tour de France."
"After I flatted, I was as deflated as my tire," said Breukink, who had tried to leave nothing to chance, having taken a test ride over the course early yesterday morning. "I thought, 'I can't win.' And all I did was just go on to do the best I could, whatever that might be. I gave everything I had in my body."
It was enough. Breukink completed the seven stages in a combined time of 48 hours, 56 minutes and 53 seconds to win first prize of $50,000.
"This is a nice victory," said Breukink, 27, of Holland. "This race is getting bigger. It is a tough race and they see it in Europe too. It is not the Tour de France, the Tour of Italy or the Tour of Spain, but after those three, you can put this race, it is that good."
Kvalsvoll, who finished second overall for the second year in a row, was 12 seconds slower, and Rolf Aldag, who won two stages while riding for Helvetia, finished third overall, 1:07 back.
"I did win the hardest stage of this race, the Wintergreen [Mountain] climb," said Kvalsvoll. "Mostly, I am disappointed for my team, which did a very good job trying to win for me the victory."
While Kvalsvoll and Breukink were on the challenging course, America's favorite Greg LeMond, who placed second yesterday in 35:26 and finished 12th overall, watched the final seconds of the race on closed circuit television.
"I'm afraid he's going to lose," LeMond said of his "Z" teammate. "But to lose to Breukink is nothing to be ashamed of."
Breukink was eating up the course. The weather, on the chilly side, and the course, on the technical side, requiring riders to carefully pick their angles along the 30-turn course, were definitely to his liking.
"When I was just beginning to become a racer, when I was 16 or 17," said Breukink. "I won my first time trial. It is something inside you that makes you good at something and when you are good, you work harder to get better at it. That's what I did.
"Now, in this race, you see the result. The equipment is important, the handle bars, the disk [aerodynamic] wheels are important, having the right technique is important, but most important are the legs. My legs felt very good from the beginning."
When Breukink did, in fact, win, LeMond sighed.
"Oh, well, Breukink is strong, very strong," he said. "But I think Atle rode the better race overall. Breukink had an easy race. He had no pressure. He never had the yellow jersey until now. Today [yesterday], he could go out without worry and go for it. Before this race, Atle was very nervous. He rode for six days with the burden of the jersey and he rode well."
LeMond also rode well and for his efforts at the front as a "Domestique" or servant to Kvalsvoll, he earned the Most Aggressive Rider award, a fact that made LeMond laugh.
"I think it is very funny," he said, as he collected the red jersey and the inflated shark that went with the achievement. "The guy who deserves this is one of the Canadian riders, who kept attacking throughout the race. He's the one who made me go to the front and work hard to keep him in the pack."
* The Coors Light team, made up of American professional riders, rallied yesterday to win the overall team title and the $10,000 prize that went with it. The Coors team placed four riders in the Top 20: Alexi Grewal (fourth), Mike Engleman (eighth), Scott Moninger (13th) and Greg Oravetz (19th). Teammate Davis Phinney earned the Sprint Leader's jersey on Day 1 and kept it throughout the race.
* U.S. amateur Bobby Julich earned the Best Young Rider award with his consistent 11-day performance, which found him finishing fifth overall.
"My goal when I came to this race was to finish in the top five," said Julich, 19. "But I didn't tell anyone but my teammates because I didn't want to look like a fool . . . The biggest challenge for me was to be assertive in the peloton [pack]. I didn't want to let the pros push me around, because if I let them, they wouldn't have any respect for me. But, gosh, I have these guys' pictures on my bedroom wall. It takes a lot to say 'No, I'm going to stay in this spot.' It takes everything you've got to say that to the guys who are your heroes."