I’d spoken with Jonathan Vaughters extensively during the days leading up to Matt White’s dismissal, but I shelved my writeup because Trent Lowe wouldn’t respond to my emails, and his representative Martin Hardie didn’t want any of his comments made public.
Last week Lowe finally broke his silence, speaking with The Sydney Morning Herald and Velonation. Hardie posted their side of the story, and Lowe finally responded to my email from mid January. I urged him to work things out in the courts instead of the media – both sides were taking on water and the public seemed to be just exhausted by it – but he insisted on talking since he felt there were larger issues at stake.
AS: The thing that really puzzles me about this whole affair is that Martin Hardie tells me that Slipstream had no right to terminate you, he says the contract doesn't allow it. If it's so clear cut, why didn't you just take Slipstream to court, recoup your money? Why bring up Del Moral at all?
TL: I needed to understand the letter of the law and of the contract, I needed some representation as well. That's not so unusual for riders, riders are used to getting bullied around because we're not so well represented. Fortunately I had someone like Martin that could look at all this stuff for me, it'd be good if there were more people like him out there. I suppose the reason I brought Del Moral up is it totally goes against the team, their ethics. I didn't feel that I was treated in the manner that the team sold itself by. And if Jonathan's going to hold me to the letter of the contract, to bring that up, to say there was an issue there, then, I just don't think that was right.
The best way to describe what I meant to say to JV was ‘One good turn deserves another.’ Slipstream let me down by sending me to Del Moral, and I was saying – hey – I did the right thing by you guys – why can’t you do the right thing by me?’. I feel I have been very loyal to Slipstream. For that to be turned into blackmail is horseshit. Why the hell would I advertise going to del Moral?
AS: It just seems like it was an ancillary issue, and the way you phrased it in your email, I think it can be interpreted as blackmail, when you say "I've kept it quiet, why don't you keep your end of the deal".
(Here's the email from Lowe to Vaughters:
The main reason I signed up to ride for Slipstream Sports in the beginning was their position against anti-doping, and how this could support my career in my personal quest for clean cycling. It was very disappointing when team management sent me to such a questionable doctor for unknown means of preparation, less than 18 months into my time with the team. As soon as I understood what was going on here I could not distance myself enough, for my personal benefit and that of the team. We both know the falling out I had with Whitey over this, and we both know that I have never doped.
I have kept my end of the deal and kept this stuff quiet and out of the public eye. I would expect that you keep your end of the deal here and pay my salary and bonuses. I would be happy to speak with you directly, lets sort this out. Please send me your contact phone number if you wish to speak.)
TL: I guess it's been misconceived that it's blackmail, I think it's anything but that, to be honest, that wasn't my intention at all. Obviously this wasn't in my interest to have it out in the public light, you've seen how damaging it is. I've tried so hard for so long to talk to Jonathan about lots of issues including this, and I just never had that opportunity, and then the relationship ended like this. I got that email (about the Pegasus camp) after my contract had expired, it was just really confusing to me, why it'd been brought up.
AS: Ideally would you rather that all this del Moral stuff never come to light?
TL: Oh absolutely. You've seen how damaging it was, and I didn't even understand how damaging it was going to be until I saw some of the media stuff about Lance and Landis that named Del Moral. I don't read all the media stuff, it's quite cursory what I look over, there's just too much going on in your life when you're trying to travel and race. But when I saw that through del Moral someone could tie me up with some of the Lance stuff, it was pretty damning, what could've happened. My name's on Del Moral's books 'cause Slipstream sent me there, suddenly I could be caught up in that investigation when I've done nothing wrong.
AS: Did you really know nothing of Del Moral's reputation? He allegedly facilitated much of US Postal/Discovery's doping, surely you must've known something about him?
TL: I never knew of his reputation until late 2009. I sent my blood results to a doctor/ sport physiologist after their opinion on why I was so fatigued, that year. He noticed Del Moral’s name on the results and hesitated working with me. I informed him of the circumstances I had seen him under and he understood that there was nothing suspicious going on. It never really dawned on me how damaging this could be to both me and the team until I saw him mentioned in some of the media during 2010 in relation to the Lance/Landis stuff. That’s when I felt it was more urgent to speak with JV about it.
AS: No one's alleging that anything happened between you and Del Moral beyond a test, right?
TL: Sure. In theory, I could've been called before that investigation, because I'm on the books and it might look suspicious. Obviously, Slipstream, they pride themselves on being the clean team, yet they sent me to that doctor, and that's going to reflect poorly on the team as well. And that's what I wanted to talk to Jonathan about.
AS: All those times you tried to contact him, was that one of the things you wanted to talk about, that you were sent to Del Moral?
TL: Absolutely. And it wasn't just that, I don't know if you know this, but I had West Nile virus last year, and it took a long time to diagnose, I actually went to the Tour of the Basque Country, did a few of the classics with the virus. If I had known what it was in the beginning and not done those races I probably could've turned it around pretty quick. But going to those races and finishing the majority of them, it just really screwed me for the rest of the year.
So that's what I wanted to talk to Jonathan about, how I got that diagnosed, why it took so long, the implications of that. That was the main thing I wanted to talk to him about, but absolutely I wanted to talk to him about Del Moral.
AS: Is it true your hematocrit was over 50 at one point and you were allowed to race?
TL: The result was over 50, although it was a lab error, it was out of competition. And it wasn’t reported to the UCI and I wasn’t re tested. I had at least three abnormal health results with Garmin that was the only one that wasn't re-submitted or reported to the UCI.
Look, I’m happy to have all my blood results looked at by a blood doping expert. Send them to someone well qualified. I race clean, and always have. I always will. I have nothing to hide.
AS: I think the stance Vaughters has taken in public, if I'm to paraphrase it, was that you didn't race that much, your results were disappointing, and you weren't able to maintain your race weight. Now, Matt White was responsible for your training?
TL: He was, from 2008 to about May of 2009. But he was acting as the teams employee doing that. I mean, I got criticism about my weight, but the team actually sent me to specialists and doctors for that, and I followed very meticulously the things they told me to do, to help correct hormone imbalances, and these other imbalances to combat chronic fatigue and things like this, it's sorta like step A before step B, you have to correct these things before you can really fine tune things like being lean.
I did exactly the preparation that was being asked of me – whether it was train hard and be lean, or rest and get your endocrine levels right. I worked bloody hard to do the right work to get better and to be in a position again to be competitive in races. But it’s hard to communicate that when the boss isn’t taking your calls and now says he never wanted to talk to you at all.
AS: Why'd you have a falling out with White? To what extent did Vaughters know about it?
TL: I feel this is complex, there was a discrepancies in our goals and communication broke down a bit. I don’t hold any ill will towards Whitey. We just don’t see the world in the same way.
I met with JV in about August 2009 and we discussed this falling out, I informed him there was no problem from my end working with Whitey. I feel that White and I both knew it was important to get along well in the work place. Whitey and I both love this sport.
AS: Talking to Hardie, I think part of the point he wants to make is that it's fine to be anti-doping, but he felt that Slipstream didn't take care of your health and didn't take care of you as a rider well enough.
TL: Absolutely, and I think it's indicative across the board in professional cycling, that riders are getting bossed around. Race radios are one thing that's in the media at the moment, but it's often you see that the race promoters throw their weight around, and the teams throw their weight around, it's the riders that don't have a collective in all this and we're the losers out of it. It's our responsibility to get that, but it's necessary. We need to make it happen, I feel.
AS: I don't know how it works in Australia, but here in US pro sports, it's basically the owners and the league, and they negotiate against the players' union, and they're of equal power.
TL: That's how it's become in Australia with cricket and football teams, in that a few years ago, and some of the lawyers I'm working with have worked alongside the players' association, as it was becoming the players' association for cricket and football, and years ago they just used to get laughed at, and now they're absolutely an equal partner, like you said in the US, and they're absolutely a force to be reckoned with. That's what cycling needs right now.
AS: So you would hope between the race radio issue and what's happening to you now, hopefully it'll be a catalyst for something like that happening?
TL: I hope so, I hope the riders can get organized on this. When I have some time and when Martin and some other people have some time to put into it. This issue with Slipstream is obviously taking a lot of our energy and resources, but previously we'd been talking with riders in various parts of the world, we'd have a German rider, he can get the German riders on board for us, a Russian guy, etc. It can start as twenty, forty guys, and then it doubles and doubles and you've got 360 guys on board. Then you have the majority of the peloton and you have a voice. It's just trying to get that ball rolling.
I also think it's necessary, and this can come later, the most important thing is to get the collective together, have your position really clear with a voice, but we also need a support network so riders can have coaching advice, tax advice, visa advice, these things – there's a lot of American riders, Australian riders, we have to race in Europe, on the other side of the world. So you have to set up your life on the other side of the world, and when you get there, you know nobody. So to get good help like that, it'd be really valuable, and it's taken me years to source that, and I still don't have the greatest solutions for things, but I think part of that system, that's something that can come after, that support network.
AS: Getting back to Slipstream, I think things changed for Vaughters when Paul Kimmage became aware of all this. Did you have anything to do with Kimmage finding out about this?
TL: Absolutely not, I don't know how he found out about it, still to this day. I heard those things as well. Kimmage would be the guy to ask that.
AS: I've asked him, he won't say.
TL: That's the disappointing thing about it all. It started as a simple straightforward contract dispute, and it boiled up into this legal defamation issue. You made the comment in one of your emails that you didn't think it was in my interest to continue to make this public, and you're right, it wasn't, but now, one of the things I've been advised about in defamation, you have to take steps to mitigate your losses, or the loss to your reputation. So that's why I have to speak publicly and put some facts on the record, to help mitigate that loss.
AS: I think what might've happened is that the instant Kimmage became aware of it, Vaughters could no longer work things out with you privately. It would've smelled of a coverup and Kimmage would've gone ballistic. I think once Kimmage became aware of this the course of events were set on a path, where Matt White had to be fired and everything made public.
TL: Sure, it's disappointing how it played out, 'cause I didn't think it needed to be like that. I don't know, I can't comment, I don't know how Kimmage found out, or if he leveraged Jonathan with that or put pressure on him.
I never asked for Whitey to be fired. Although I’m really, incredibly unhappy at being sent to del Moral, I’m still not sure what policy Whitey broke.
AS: I guess you're probably taking this year off? Are teams avoiding you now?
TL: Yeah, it's made things a lot more difficult. Obviously after the last couple of seasons I've had with few results, you saw even after the Pegasus collapse, guys with results were able to find teams. It's been more difficult because of that, and stuff in the media. The season's started, I guess I’ll look for something that's going to work for the year, maybe I race my mountain bike a bit and keep in shape. I've been doing some things just to keep fit and have fun.
AS: I suppose you're pretty confident in the court case?
TL: Yeah, I'm learning a whole lot about the legal process, and I feel quite fortunate to have the representation that I have. I'll just be guided by those people.
AS: By the way, how'd you hook up with Hardie?
TL: I met Martin probably 18 months ago, when he was doing his New Pathways for Cycling report. Did you see that report "I Wish I was 21"?
TL: I was interviewed for that, and that's when I met Martin, a short while before that. We just stayed in touch, Martin's great I think, he's really got the riders' interest at heart. I think some people sort of mistake him as just trying to cause trouble or stir up problems, but I think he really wants some proper representation for the riders, wants what's right for us. I think if more people speak with him they'll probably understand that and want to work further with him. There are a lot of people who contributed to that report and do contact him for different things.
AS: Well, best of luck to you. Do you think if you win the case it'll go far towards restoring your reputation and your prospects for 2012?
TL: I hope so, for sure, and that's the thing we've asked for all along was an apology in all this, not demands of massive amounts of money, just an apology and a pathway to come to a good resolution for compensation and the things that are necessary in the fallout of all this.
The thing is – if people are banging away in the media using my name and Del Moral’s in the same sentence, then that hurts my reputation as a rider right when it’s at its most vulnerable – when I need a team and I’m just recovered from two years of sickness. Sickness that could’ve been diagnosed and treated quicker, if people had done things differently.
That’s why when Slipstream asked for a figure, Martin told them the level of damage we felt they had done to my career. But to have that characterized as a demand for hush money – that’s rubbish. Slipstream are the ones asking us to put a figure on it. They kept on asking. We wanted an apology first and foremost, and then just agree to discuss the money later.
Instead it gets turned around, and no-one stopped to say, hey – extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof – it was just reported like I was a criminal.
AS: The reporting in the media could've been more favorable if you'd spoken out immediately. But you guys were quiet and so the Slipstream narrative took over. Why did you choose to stay silent for so long?
TL: I wasn't the one bringing this to the attention of the public or making press releases. I never wanted this to be public. Perhaps that explains why the allegation I would release this info as a form of blackmail is ridiculous. The only information I said I would release was to correct the record, in response to Slipstream's own press releases. Just because I didn't respond straight away doesn't give people the right to defame me, like I said, extraordinary claims like blackmail require extraordinary proof.
The other thing was I was out clearing my head and having fun on my mountain trip, with no phone coverage for a few weeks. In this time my legal team were hard at work putting together the material which we have now released.
I wanted to make sure that what I said in public on my behalf was accurate. Given that I felt what Sliptream said was defamatory, I needed to be cetain of what I said publicly. Anyone that reads that letter will see we never asked them for money, rather an apology and to sit down and speak with us about fair compensation. My legal team advised me that I needed to take steps to mitigate the loss to my reputation. And here we are.