I've recently watched again each of Armstrong crazy attacks from 1999-2005, most of them fit so well Varjas' story and the "140w for 5 minutes" in Brunel's book, I'm now SURE he did use a motor. Of course, this was on top of EPO/BBs/testosterone who allowed him to be in the front group.
But motor was the way to LEAVE the front group (and make them look like juniors), I'm now sure of that.
Ventoux 2000 to catch Pantani
Alpe Huez 2001
Luz Adiden 2003
There's exactly zero chance Phamstrong was using a motor because, if he had, there's exactly zero chance that someone (if not FLandis, Hamilton, or Andreau, then certainly his former mechanic, Mike Anderson
[or all of the above]) would not have groused by now.
It simply beggars belief that he might have been using an electric motor but that his own bike mechanic and personal assistant not know about it, or that Anderson would not by now have blown the whistle.
If he had a motor, why didn't he use it in the ITT on Stage 12 in 2003, when he lost 1:36 to Ullrich and very nearly lost the TdF entire because he suffered too much from the heat?** You can't speculate that he would use a motor to create successes without also inquiring why he didn't use the same motor to stave off failures.
Pharmstrong's seeming indomitability in select mountain stages, IMHO, was down to four factors.
#1. Pharmstrong was coddled and his cheating turned a blind eye to by WADA, UCI and ASO. Because when he returned post-cancer to the European circuit, he brought with him something they had all coveted since the days of Jock Boyer
: penetration of the American market. Even 3-time winner (and gunshot survivor) Greg Lemond failed to deliver on their hope, but Pharmstrong presented it to them gift-wrapped and tied up with a bow (without even having won his first TdF). Americans in their millions who wouldn't have known a bidon from a bidet or Charly Gaul from Charles de Gaulle were buying every bit of cycling kitsch in sight that bore either Pharmstrong's name or likeness or the Livestrong trademark.
#2. He had a superior doping program in the guise Michele Ferrari, who was -- pardon the pun -- at the "bleeding edge" of doping technology. And whose exclusive services Pharmstrong had retained.
#3. His entire team were better doped than any other team. USADA called it, "...the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme the sport has ever seen
...." They were known as "the Big Blue Train" because when they decided to set the tempo for a stage, they were going to set the tempo for the stage.
Period. Full stop. They could not be stopped because they collectively were too powerful. Such events were what Pharmstrong called his "getting out the hurt stick
," an American slang reference akin to a jockey's "going to the whip," when he would don his patrón
hat and exert his dominance over the peloton.
The fact that everyone on the team was doping not only improved their performance as a unit, it also gave Pharmstrong an added layer of security because their being complicit in the doping made them far less likely to grouse.
#4. The team itself were unusually well-optimised for the benefit of its captain. Yes, I know all the other teams also were "shields on me" around their star, but Motorola/USPS/Disco were setting a new standard.
For instance, Pharmstrong's teams were unusual in that they never carried a sprint specialist. Sprinters are useless in the mountains and so did nothing to enhance his chances of a GC win, so they simply didn't have one. Which means that when the mountains came and all the "Danger Men" began expending pawns in pursuit of the stage win, Pharmstrong essentially/potentially had 14% more pawns
at his disposal than any opponent on a team that did have
a sprinter. Plus, he enjoyed better protection in those dangerous final kilometers of a sprint finish because none of his eight teammates were excused duty from his protective phalanx.
And on any TdF featuring a TTT, Motorola/USPS/Disco were known to have invested more training time on team time trialing. Because Pharmstrong was one of the best ITTers and so sought to minimize how much time his less proficient teammates would cost him in the TTT.
Taken together, the latter two points meant that Pharmstrong was cosseted within the most powerful and best disciplined team in the peloton. It cannot be overestimated how much of his success was owed to the strength (and willingness to suffer) of his supporting teammembers, because that afforded him the greatest opportunity to "sit in" and expend minimum energies when the conduct of the race was business as usual.
Speaking specifically to "Ventoux 2000 to catch Pantani
," in 1999, Il Elefantino
had been tossed out of the Giro (while wearing the pink jersey) because he was caught with an Hct of 52. He only just had come off of an 11-month suspension for that doping infraction at the start of the 2000 Tour.
OTOH, in the 1999 TdF, Pharmstrong had been caught using corticosteroids. And on several different stages, possibly as many as six. Yet all his indiscretions were swept under the rug.
So what you are seeing on that stage on the Ventoux in 2000 is not a contest among equals, it is a contest between a man who doped with impunity because the sport's overlords protected him versus a man who doped with circumspection because he was under elevated scrutiny.
Most days, Pharmstrong cruised in the luxury of the Big Blue Train's first-class cabin. But whenever circumstance or strategy dictated that he personally lead the attack, Pharmstrong was not just the best-doped rider in the contest, he almost without exception also the best-rested. His seemingly superhuman performances weren't down to one motor that ran on electricity, they were down to nine motors powered by EPO.
** It bears mention that FLandis was there on that day in 2003. And I can't help but think that might have been the spark of the idea to use the heat to his advantage on the occasion of 2006's infamous Stage 17, which he gambled he could overcome by spending the entire stage "off the front," where he would have near unlimited access to water.