But he made a significant stride in that direction Sunday when he became one of the youngest stage winners in the Tour de France.
Armstrong, 21, broke away with 50 yards left in the 114-mile eighth stage to outsprint Raul Alcala of Mexico and win in 4 hours 22 minutes 23 seconds. The victory moved Armstrong to 12th overall, 2:32 behind leader Johan Museeuw of Belgium.
"It means a lot to me," Armstrong said. "It's one of the greatest days of my life."
Armstrong, riding for the American Motorola team, said before the Tour he was eagerly awaiting the chance to show up the dominant Europeans. And although he did just that Sunday, Armstrong will be hard pressed to duplicate his performance in today's first individual time trial at Lac de Madine.
Today's 34.7-mile race against the clock should shake up the general classification. Miguel Indurain of Spain, who has won back-to-back Tours, is expected to emerge along with rivals Gianni Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci of Italy.
Another contender, Alex Zulle of Switzerland, virtually lost any chance of winning when a spectator knocked him off his bike at the summit of the Cote de Douaumont, seven miles from the finish. He was on the ground almost two minutes before continuing. Zulle, who did not break any bones, lost about a minute to Indurain.
Although most fans were looking forward to today's time trial, Armstrong was savoring one of the biggest victories in his career. Some cycling insiders criticized Motorola for starting Armstrong in the Tour at such a young age. LeMond did not race his first Tour until he was 23.
But Motorola wanted to give its future leader the grueling experience of Tour competition. He was not expected to complete the 23-day race because a devastating loss here might be detrimental to his career.
Now Armstrong said he is reconsidering his plan to quit the race early.
"During the Alps I will see what I can do day by day," he said. "I came here to learn and to win. I'm still learning."
Armstrong's name will be placed alongside other young stage victors in the Tour's annals. Henri Cornet of France won a stage in 1904 at 20, and LeMond won in 1985 at 24.
LeMond went on to win three Tours, a lofty achievement for Armstrong to match.