Interview With Trent Lowe

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Since January Trent Lowe’s name as been dragged through the mud. I don’t know Trent very well on a personal level but we have many mutual friends. Trent’s reputation among his mates is that he’s simply too nice for the world pro cycling. I’ve been following this drama ever since it began and things don’t seem to add up. I sat down for lunch with Trent yesterday to get his side on the various issues in the media spotlight. As usual, there are three sides to every story.

We spoke about many things over our two hour conversation. Trent was remarkably upbeat, positive, and above all, healthy. One thing I didn’t expect is to hear Trent’s enthusiasm for mountain biking and how he never really lost touch with it. The interview constantly went off on tangents about his mountain bike adventures in the bush everywhere between Marysville to Omeo. Below I’ve posted the parts of our conversation relating to Dr Del Moral, blackmail claims, his contract dispute, and Pegaus. If you want to read a detailed chronology of events that brought Trent to this stage, here is what his lawyers have put together.

How did you make your way onto Discovery?

[Trent Lowe] At around that time I had a contract to race my mountain bike with Gary Ficher / Subary for 2005-2006, but since with mountain biking you only race a dozen or so races a year, so I joined a US domestic road team called Jittery Joe’s at the same time. They’re from Georgia so the Tour of Georgia is their prime event. I went there with really good form and held onto the big names through the mountains and went on to win the best young riders jersey. That’s more or less how I got onto Discovery. Gary Fisher were owned by Trek so they were willing to let me out of my contract to go race for Discovery, which was really good of them. I didn’t even think I’d be road racing that year, I thought it would be the next year. I had never done any road racing in Europe at that point in time when I went there with Discovery. I did two years with Discovery and then half a year later I was with Slipstream and racing the Tour (de France).

Local folklore has it that you did an incredible time up the 1 in 20. What was it?

[Trent Lowe] About 13 minutes I think. We got it on video if you want me to send it to you. Rob Eva followed me on a motorbike with a stopwatch, and you can probably take splits off it if you want. He’s got the camera on me, looking at the stopwatch, and then at the top he’s got the finish time.

(CyclingTips: For the record, I’ve tracked down the video and Trent’s time is 13:02. For those of you unfamiliar, the 1 in 20 is a local climb in Melbourne that’s 6km long with a 5% gradiant. Lots of riders use this as a test climb. 13:02 is unheard of!) Here’s the video below

Notice that he’s sitting on ~50km/hr on the false flat section!

How to you know Martin Hardie and what’s your relationship with him?

[Trent Lowe] Basically I met Martin when he started to interview me for that report (New Pathways to Pro Cycling) at the Sun Tour 2009. I was happy to do that and we got to know one another more since then. We’ve stayed in touch as the year’s gone by.

Part of the problem is that Martin is labeled as a trouble maker, when all he wants is rights. He wants what’s right for the riders. When the riders communicate more with him they understand that. They understand that he’s this wealth of experience. He understands the law, he understands pro cycling, the issues that riders are likely to have, the governance of it and how it’s all linked in. So he’s just an incredibly valuable resource for cycling I think. It’s a shame that he gets labeled as a troublemaker because he’s really just fighting for what’s right.

You raced a lot in 2008 (83 days).  Is this when your health began to deteriorate?

[Trent Lowe] Yeah, half way through the year I was training a lot leading up to the Tour. More than I’ve ever trained really.  I started the race really tired and that’s obviously not how you want to start the Tour. I got through that and after it was in a downward spiral. I didn’t pick up on this. I was inexperienced, I think I was 23 or 24 and still learning my body. What it takes to condition it and be competitive. That was a mistake in hindsight. When you’re caught up in it you just want it to work, you know. You just want success. Subsequently you overtrain as opposed to resting. It’s the worst thing you can do.

Do you feel it’s partially the team’s responsibility to monitor your health and continuing your race schedule?

[Trent Lowe] I feel so. The team at that stage was responsible for my training and racing schedule and they were also responsible for the administration of the UCI health regulations, like the quarterly tests. The team ensured we took all the blood tests. But something that’s meant to happen with the blood tests is a physical exam to access your health. Having an interview with a sport doctor and do a physical exam, and the things you commonly do with your GP just to make sure you’re healthy. In the time I was with Slipstream there was meant to be twelve quarterlies. I was there for three years, and they did two physical examinations out of twelve that were meant to take place. There was meant to be ten other examinations that never took place. So that was really disappointing. And I didn’t know all these rules at the time. It’s the team manager’s, the team doctor’s responsibility to implement all this. We had been notified by the team doctor that he would be in control of these matters as well. Not until more recently that I’ve gone through the UCI regulations to see what they are and there have been all these missed tests. I feel that it certainly contributed to the troubles I’ve had.

Was it the quarterly health checks that Matt White referred to you Dr Del Moral?

[Trent Lowe] Yeah, that’s right. The initial one was to do a VO2 test, like a fitness test. And that was more for fitness parameters because I wasn’t riding very well. It was clear in my mind why that was. I had been trying to communicate that with the team for some time that I didn’t feel I was right. It wasn’t until I went to the next couple of races – Tour of Cataluña after that fitness test and then the Dauphiné, I couldn’t finish either race. I had a virus by day five in Cataluña. It wasn’t until after I did those two events and stopped that I called Matt White, as sport director. I had been speaking with him about that and trying to get time off racing and that wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until I wrote to Jonathan (Vaughters) about seeing the doctor in Valencia that I was allowed that time out.  I feel I gave him a rundown of what I’d been trying and the problems I’d been having.

When Matt White referred you to Dr Del Moral, did you know anything about him or any reputation he might have?

[Trent Lowe] I didn’t know him. He was in Valencia and I was 70km outside of Valencia. I didn’t know of his reputation at all, or his history. I just didn’t. I had no reason to. He was with a bygone era of cycling. I came from mountain biking and I knew nothing about road racing. I was a rookie when I started in Europe. I had no reason to have any communication or an understanding of this doctor until late 2009 when I learned that he was someone not to be associated with. That was really disappointing. Slipstream has the ethos of being a clean team and being ethical and that so I was really disappointed they sent me there. It really went against that ethos.

To clear up anyone’s questions about this, did you ever have any dealings with Dr Del Moral with regards to the the use of prohibited substances?

[Trent Lowe] Absolutely not. He never even suggested it. He was a professional doctor, you know. We spoke about my needs as it related to my health. What was interesting, before I mentioned that I only had two of the medical examinations in my time with Garmin, out of the supposed twelve, Dr Del Moral was one of the ones who actually did one of those proper physical examinations. He did his job well. The other time it was Prentice, the team doctor. They were the only two times I had it. Del Moral was professional and he never suggested anything and obviously I’m pretty staunch on anti-doping. I’ve always raced clean and I will. I’ll let any expert look at my blood results if that’s necessary to tell that I’m a clean rider.

So it wasn’t until the end of the year that I had someone else look over my blood results for why I was so fatigued. He (the physiologist) picked up on the name on the blood tests and suggested what have you been doing with this doctor.  His words were “I don’t mean to speak ill of someone who isn’t present, but what have you been up to with this doctor?”  I told him the two circumstances I’ve seen him under and I had nothing to hide. I was clean and my blood results showed I wasn’t doping. I mean, they showed how fatigued I was. It was the opposite, hence why I went to him.

I realised how damaging it was when Del Moral’s name started coming up in the Landis and Lance stuff. That’s when I thought maybe I’m tied up in that too because I’m simply on his books. Because Slipstream sent me there. That’s when I really tried to get in contact with Vaughters about it. And again, I just got ignored. I tried to call him and email him many times and I just couldn’t set up a meeting with him or talk with him even.

I’ve seen an email dated May 28, 2009 (allegedly sent out on June 12, 2009) from Dr Prentice Steffen that states the team policy concerning the use of approve health providers. You had first seen Dr Moral back in April 17, 2009 (before this policy was sent out).  Were subsequent visits to Del Moral approved by Slipstream?

[Trent Lowe] I don’t believe so. That whole thing came out in retrospect. I don’t understand the grounds they fired Matt White. That policy states that there’s no outside medical help at events without prior approval. This wasn’t an event. So I’m not sure what policy they fired White under.

So after you knew about this policy and when you subsequently say Del Moral, did you tell about your visits with him?

[Trent Lowe] Well, I felt like they knew. And it was outside of an event, so it wasn’t against that policy. I’ve had email conversations with Jonathan about Del Moral. Not as “Del Moral”, but as “my sport’s doctor here”. I just felt they understood that. I mean, they had sent me there so I felt that it was fine that I go there. They suggested that I go get my third quarter check-up as well. That’s what I went and did. I needed the blood work done. I was really unwell. I stopped the Dauphine on the side of the road with a stomach bug.

Did Slipstream keep racing you while you were unwell?

[Trent Lowe] They did until after I had the check-up. And that’s why I had this liaison with Jonathan referring to Del Moral that he was checking me and suggesting I was fatigued and that I need some rest and time off the bike. From that point I got time off. But the months up to that, for many months I had been asking for a rest. It wasn’t until I spoke to JV that my message got through.

After your health started to improve you had tried to contact JV to meet with him while you were in Denver. Did you ever get to meet with him.

Not in 2010 I didn’t. That’s why I was disappointed to get an email at the beginning of January when I enquired why I hadn’t been paid for December. He wrote back to tell me that my contract had been terminated in November. I had no communication telling me that it had been terminated. I didn’t feel as though there were any grounds for it to be terminated either. He stated more recently that I should have contacted him in December about negotiating a settlement for the supposed breach but I hadn’t even been informed that my contract had been terminated in December. So how was I to negotiate that?

How often were you in contact with JV in 2010?

[Trent Lowe] I would have seen him face to face maybe twice and said hello, I spoke with him five or ten minutes one time just about the path I felt I was on. I sent some emails back and forth summing up where I am and got a couple responses.

From having chronic fatigue the year before I felt I made some real ground in the first few months of 2010. I was finishing races, I was performing well as a teammate. By the end of March I had good training numbers and I was getting right up there again. Then I went to Corsica for the Critérium International, and I just never came back the same from that. I just started getting worse and worse, recovering poorly. I went to Basque Country, Grand Prix Indurain, the Classics, I raced a full month at the ProTour in April and then in May we diagnosed that I had West Nile Virus. That’s why I was feeling so shit. The problem there was that I raced for a month with it and it just screwed me.

I raced Liege and went to America (in May 2010) and I don’t know what hit me. I though it was jetlag or something and it just didn’t go away.

Then specifically I wanted to talk to JV about a range of things: Del Moral and why  the team would send me there, I wanted to talk to him about West Nile and the implications of my recovery. I still thought I was gonna come back and race at some point that year. I didn’t know it was going to last that long.

When did you begin speaking with Pegaus?

[Trent Lowe] Not until July or August.

Your contract was coming to and end with Slipstream at the end of 2010, correct?

[Trent Lowe] That’s right, it was until the end of 2010.

Were you feeling abandoned by Slipstream at this point?

[Trent Lowe] Yeah, I mean, I just didn’t know why my calls and that weren’t being returned. I just didn’t understand it as much as anything.

So when you were recovering in Denver you started talks with Pegasus. How did that come about?

[Trent Lowe] Martin (Hardie) suggested I talk with Henk Vogels. I’ve known Henk for…the last few years Henk was racing I raced with him. We raced on the National Team in the Sun Tour together and we were buddies to, so I got in touch with Henk and it took off from there. I met Chris White and the backers in Denver. The backers, the Gillette family were out of Denver. So I briefly met with them and Chris White.

But Martin had told JV about putting me in contact with Henk in September when he was talking to him. JV had written to Martin to offer support for the conference Martin was running in Geelong at the Worlds. Remember Martin got a lot of flack for that and JV was one of those quietly supporting him in the background.

Did you tell JV that you were joining Pegasus?

[Trent Lowe] No, I didn’t. I didn’t get in contact with him about that. I told him that I was leaving to another team. I didn’t feel that it was going to be an issue because when I joined his team I never did the same from the team I was leaving (Discovery). I knew I had to wear my kit and the journalists at the training camp (in Noosa) were specifically asked not to use any of these photos for publication. Any photos that have arisen have been without consent And there hasn’t really been any photos. In everything I’m wearing Garmin clothing. Pegaus were really mindful that there were existing contracts in place so they didn’t want to cause any problems.

I didn’t really understand why I handn’t heard from them (Slipstream) for months, and then I told them that I was going to a new team. I didn’t specifically ask for permission to go to that training camp, but I told them months earlier and they would have known I’d be at those sorts of things. Then I get an email after my contract has expired about the circumstances.

Were there any early indications that Pegasus wasn’t proceeding as planned before the ProTeam and ProConti licenses started falling through?

[Trent Lowe] Not really. In hindsight, I thought they’d announce the sponsor sooner  so I was wondering what was happening and what’s the timeline. That was a bit confusing. I felt that even if they didn’t have a sponsor they’d been underwritten by the Gillette family. Slipstream were the same when I joined them. It had the backer of Doug Ellis. For me it was those circumstances that teams had grown under and I thought everything was fine. I had no reason to think anything. We were all at the camp learning all the new policies and things like that. I accepted that it was uncertain that Pegasus was going to have something in some capacity, but it was a bit of a shock.

Did you have any opportunities that you passed up because of Pegsus?

[Trent Lowe] Yes, in August I had a really good offer, but I wanted to race for the Aussie team. It was the Aussie team we hadn’t had and we needed that for a long time. That was pretty disappointing because I could be in Europe racing right now for a good team.

What was your reaction to JV informing you that your contract was terminated in November and that you’re not getting paid?

[Trent Lowe] Well, I didn’t understand it as much as anything. I tried to contact him for so long and I thought, ok, well, that’s our relationship. I was always professional, wrote to him professionally, wanted to meet with him, just to discuss things frankly even if I was moving on. I was confused I guess. I thought I had been quite loyal to the team. I realised I couldn’t race for much of the year but I wanted to talk to him about that. It wasn’t like I was hiding and not wanting to race. I was pretty clear that I was unwell and I wanted to have a chat with him about it. And to have them break their care of duty with sending me to Del Moral. I thought one good turn deserves another, you know. I’ve been loyal and stuck by the team and feel I’ve added a lot to the team as well. Maybe less so in results in the past couple years but I contributed a lot to the team’s success.

Can you shed some light on the context behind Sliplstream’s blackmail claims?

[Trent Lowe] It’s so misconceived that the email I sent was blackmail.  Martin (Hardie) asked for an apology, not half a million euros. The only money I’ve asked them for is for my contract to be paid. I never once said anything about non-disclosure of any information. It was like “guys, I’ve stuck by you all this time, can you at least stick by me?” I don’t know how they came up with that to be honest.

Martin was communicating with Slipstream’s lawyers about this issue, and then suddenly it’s been spun-out into the media as blackmail. They’re alleging that we’re criminals. It’s really serious. That’s why we’re forced to pursue a defamation case. The reason Martin wrote those letters to them was to alert them to the damage being done to my reputation and saying that if they didn’t apologise I would have to take steps to protect my reputation. They had had the documents about Del Moral in their possession since it happened. They had breached various issues of privacy and confidentiality by even releasing that I’ve been to see Del Moral and certain medical documents that have been shown. If they felt they had to sack Whitey they could have done that without even mentioning my name. It reflects so poorly on me that I’ve been to see Del Moral and it really damages my image. Martin was pointing out that in fact, the team was responsible for me seeing this doctor, and that they had denied it and had said that they didn’t have any understanding this. I mean, the team management sent me there, we referred to him in emails, Prentice wrote an inch above Del Moral’s name on the blood results some notes and put it on my medical file. He copied JV in on the emails with the blood results attached and they would have looked through them. JV even commented on the specifics of the results in an email to me.

Another thing is that in defamation you have to make public statements to mitigate the damage to your reputation. That’s why Martin said we would have to make a public statement to defend me. This is why I am talking now. We didn’t want to make this debate public, we tried to stop that happening before they sacked Whitey, but I need to take steps to mitigate my loss. So that’s how that letter came about, what Martin was referring to specifically in that letter, that we have to make a statement here to protect my reputation. Now it’s part of the legal process. It’s a defamation case. I am trying to mitigate the damage done to my reputation.

It’s been misconstrued that we’re asking for half a million Euros to not disclose this information. It’s just not at all accurate.

So what is the reference of 500,000 Euros to then?

[Trent Lowe] In the letter that was sent by Martin (Hardie), he said that this now goes beyond being a contract dispute now. These are the claims we have to pursue now: defamation and losses.  They’ve asked us continuously what amount of money will take to settle this issue.  Martin said that first off we need an apology and then asked them to agree to sit down and discuss for a fair sum in settlement. Martin said to me to come up with a figure, a rough idea, to give them some idea that it’s not just a pay dispute now, it’s a much bigger issue and the claim for damages is much greater. He said tell me what you’ve lost in the last two years as a result of your health, as a result of the damage to your reputation, there are health provisions in my contract too that they haven’t complied with – the UCI rules, so we also took into account the difficulty it I was going to have, as a result of both my health and the defamation, in trying to get a contract in the future. They made a whole lot of statements which have hurt my career prospects by  linking me with Del Moral to imply that I’ve been doping.

So that’s roughly the calculation we came up with. But Martin made it clear to them in the letter he wrote that we weren’t asking for that amount, he wanted to focus their attention on the damage being done to me and how they were hurting my career. He only asked them to do the right thing and to make an apology straight away and to agree to sit down and discuss things like fair compensation for what they had done. He specifically said for us to work out a real figure we would need to consult other lawyers and consultants about my health problems and the damage done to my reputation and career by them stating those things. That was what the reference to the money (500,000 Euros) was about and it has been totally misrepresented.

What’s your relationship with Matt White now because of this?

[Trent Lowe] We had a falling out at the time, during the 2009 season.

Was it over anything to do with Del Moral?

[Trent Lowe] It’s complex. It’s not clear cut like that, no. I suppose as much as anything we just see the world differently. We had different goals. There were discrepancies in our goals. I think a lot of it has to do with the both of us really like our work and we’re really passionate about it. So when our goals were a bit different and communication broke down a bit, I guess that’s when we had a falling out. We understood it was necessary to work with one another. We were pretty professional in getting on with our job in the workplace and our roles crossed over smoothly.

What do you make of the timing of JV coming to the TdU, firing Matt White, and overshadowing Cameron Meyer’s win?  It has been reported that Paul Kimmage became aware of this information and was speaking with Vaughters about it. Do you feel Kimmage put pressure on him to force him to fire White?

[Trent Lowe] It possible I suppose. Its possible that’s why he (JV) was forced to act in that timeframe. But I just don’t know.

We made it clear that we would sit down with them (Slipstream) and discuss Del Moral and anything they wanted to know. They really jumped the gun by doing this. This is why Martin had to send those letters. We said that we’d sit down and talk about all this but they jumped the gun which totally changed things.

Slipstream is a big team with a multimillion dollar budget. Why do you think JV is being like this? Why would he have not paid your last month of wages and bonuses which would have only been a few thousand dollars? Do you think there’s a bigger agenda at play?

[Trent Lowe] I’m just as confused as anyone by the way he’s acted.  I’m confused with how it could blow up this much. I send some email about a simple pay dispute, and now I’m pursuing with lawyers on defamation. It just seems ridiculous. I suppose what it highlights to me is that we need representation.  Part of it is that it’s perceived that I could be bullied. Riders just get bullied and pushed around.

When it’s all said and done, what do you want from Slipstream?

[Trent Lowe] An apology. That’s all I’ve asked for all along. To restore my reputation.  And for my contract to be paid obviously. I feel it’s right that I get paid my contract.

Are you any closer to receiving an apology?

[Trent Lowe] No, not really. JV just came out and repeated his position just this week. He repeated the things he said and that they’re truthful.

Do you think your career is over because of this?

[Trent Lowe] No, I don’t think so. It’s made it more difficult to be hired obviously. It’s a range of things. Not having results for two years. If I had results in that time because of being healthy they would have added a lot of weight to me still being in Europe right now.  I don’t see my career as being over though. I still love riding and racing my bike. This is what’s a bit frustrating. I haven’t felt this way in a long time. I feel healthy and strong again.  It’s a bitter pill you know.

Do you have any irons in the fire with teams right now?

[Trent Lowe] There are some opportunities. I might even race my mountain bike again and see if I can be competitive with that.

Is London 2010 a possibility?

[Trent Lowe] Yeah, I thought of that. I need to see how competitive I can be though. I’ll go locally first, and then maybe get to North America. It depends on the sponsors I can get. If I can be competitive in some of the North American stuff that would be when I’d go and see if I can be competitive in the World Cups.  Step by step….

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