Transparent Intentions

Friday, 4 March 2011

Trent Lowe

I’m feeling sorry for Trent Lowe. A promising climber, his career didn’t work out. He ended his time with Slipstream Sports badly after he got fired for not using team kit whilst still technically under contract and then his Pegasus team never made it to the start line. They say things come in threes but as if this collection of bad news wasn’t enough, the whole story is now being made very public.

One one side there is Jonathan Vaughters and his Slipstream Sports entity, on the other we have Lowe and Martin Hardie, his adviser and a law lecturer at Australia’s Deakin University. Hardie has just made public his side of the story with a detailed chronology of events on his interesting blog. I’ve been following Hardie for some time, his assertion that doping is as much a socio-cultural phenomenon within parts of the peloton as it is medical or economic, is a crucial matter to grasp.

Case History
To summarise, Lowe was sent to “dodgy doctor” Luis Garcia del Moral, a man suspected of administering doping products in the past. I repeat suspected as he’s not been convicted. Nevertheless, the mention of del Moral’s name rings alarm bells, google his name if you like. And it’s a break of the Garmin team’s internal policy to ensure all medical referrals are controlled. At the same time Lowe was seeking compensation for breach of contract and discussions between Hardie and Slipstream’s lawyers involved talk of compensation. Vaughters then went public, splashing the figures around and it appeared that Lowe, or at least Hardie, was pushing for a juicy settlement in order to buy silence over the del Moral case. Following this revelation, the team sacked Matt White, the DS who made the referral to del Moral. Now Hardie is using the same public arena to put his case.

What to make of it all?
Well we’ve now got Vaughters in one corner and Hardie in the other. Both have the clear and transparent intention to put their side of the story. What was once a dispute over an employment contract is now a battle for image and perception. The lawyers might still be swapping emails and letters but now people are being encouraged to join the dots.

I wrote about St Jonathan of Girona the other day, half the point of the post was to suggest that he is no saint, that he has business interests and that he’s quite fallible and he gets involved in debates with humble fans. What’s awkward here is that if Vaughters is no saint, he’s not exactly the big sinner. He’s one of the few team managers to put his head above the parapet. The fact that he’s built himself a “nice guy” image is why Lowe and Hardie get some traction. If these claims were made against a slapdash outfit like, well pick your own poorly-run team, then people would shrug and ignore it. Now everyone can see that at best “JV” gets awkward when replying to emails from someone who he doesn’t want to renew, at worst the friendly Twitter account is a mask for a steely businessman.

Conclusion
In case you’ve forgotten, Trent Lowe’s the centre of the story. I hope he doesn’t get caught in legal crossfire, the fuss being made over a breach of contract and a final month’s pay is greater than most unpaid riders have ever known. In the meantime we have two sides who seem set on using the public sphere to denigrate each other. For Lowe’s sake I wish this could be matter for dialogue, arbitration and the law instead of a media spat.

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{ 22 comments }

beev March 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

We now have many statements and comments from both sides of this story. The truth is no doubt somewhere in the middle, but if the documented timeline and statements by Hardie are verified then i think there are a couple of very important considerations;

The public statements made by Slipstream sports and JV regarding this, and

The principal of vicarious liability ie. where the buck stops within SS with regard to blame or fault on this whole affair.

With respect to the former, with what has so far been made public, I regard some of the SS statements made as being very damaging. As for the latter, one has to question why the axe stops at Matt White.

Whilst I respect JV in many ways, you have to always beware the man who draws the sword (be it the dispatch of MW, or the choice to air publicly ones dirty laundry). What JV will now most likely see, is that all the knives will come out….

anon March 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

This is one sorry affair. One guy overtrains himself into illness and gets on a down slide that hasn’t stopped. What’s your take on Hardie?

Chuffy March 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

It’s pretty ugly, but no more so than any messy divorce being played out in public. There’s certainly nothing to suggest doping or illegal practices at Slipstream, despite what the cretinous dot-joiners in the Clinic (Cycling News doping forum) are so desperate to ‘prove’.

To be fair to JV (and following on from your previous St Jonathan piece) I don’t think that he has ever tried to present himself as saintly. What he has tried to do is open things up in a way that no previous team manager has before. The inevitable side-effect is that people then attach labels. I’m a big fan of the way that Slipstream/Garmin are trying to improve cycling’s culture and I get quite angry about the implicit sneer of labelling them saints or boy scouts (not picking on you in particular, your piece was a sensible reflection). I wonder sometimes if some fans are so wedded to the idea that cycling=doping that anything which challenges this perception has to be derided, sneered at and ‘disproved’ by whatever false logic they can find. After all, if you stick to the line ‘they all dope’ you can never be proven wrong and you’ll never run the risk of being let down. In which case, JV and co may as well retreat, dope on the sly and shut up, because that seems to be what some people want.

Chuffy March 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm

@beev – I wonder if JV is questioning the wisdom to go public (presumably in response the implied threat by Lowe). The irony is that by speaking out he has opened himself up to more adverse comment, whereas if he’d kept it all quiet (and what’s $15k back pay to a team the size of Slipstream anyway?) it would probably all have gone away. At least until someone said something to someone and the dots were joined. At which point there would have been an internet shitstorm about how Slipstream/JV covered things up, which would obviously *prove* that they were all secretly doping.

Damned if you do, etc….

beev March 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm

chuffy, i have to say that i’m sure JV had “drawn the dots” with respect to TL and his future career within slipstream many months before any of this ever blew up. It’s a sad fact, but in todays society when you see communication of this form by email it is because more personable channels have clearly broken down. Also, I don’t draw any implication to there being a wider scandal. Hence, as you say, this is for me more a case of poor management that needs to be learnt from. As of now, the only ones likely to benefit will be in the legal profession….

The Inner Ring March 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

beev: yes, it’s ugly. A lot of laundry being aired. As I hinted above, if we think this is bad, imagine what would happen if you lifted the lid on many other teams.

anon: maybe I wouldn’t have advised Lowe in the same way but that’s more because of the outcome, I mean I am using hindsight. Lowe still hasn’t got the contractual breech sorted. I hope the serious effort into the New Cycling Pathways conference isn’t forgotten by this spat.

Chuffy: my “saint” piece was meant in irony. I sometimes think my pieces are too long and edited that one before pressing publish but maybe I should have left in the bit stating that more obvious. There are no saints in cycling at all, everyone has an interest or an angle.

The more this is about image, the more dots can be joined. Instead, we should be asking for the law to be applied, no?

Chuffy March 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

@Inner Ring – don’t worry, I understood your angle perfectly, hence my qualification. My ire is reserved for the Clinic boot-boys. :)

jza March 4, 2011 at 6:50 pm

So it appears to me there could be a couple of elephants in the room of this discussion. And neither is favorable to Trent Lowe, who just wants ~$15000, by the sounds of it.

Either,
A – Slipstream is running a systematic doping program using off-the-books doctors. Everybody is on board, even riders who barely race, are in management’s dog house (for whatever reason) and already have one foot out the door. I really doubt this is the case.

or

B – Lowe had a lot of potential but was charging, he did come from Postal/Disco and his career trajectory is similar to, though more dramatic than Danielson’s. He either botched his program, or just isn’t that fast without the sauce and desperately tried everything, ending up with a doctor who can magically raise hct and test levels. In this case JV is actually doing him a favor by keeping him on the books without racing him and hopefully letting him fade away rather than fire him and start a big doping scandal. Sure the $$$ is petty, but understandable.

Neither of these situations are good for Lowe, neither are bad for JV. Maybe it exposes JV of just running a solid top level pro team rather than a full time crusader looking to castigate every dirty rider he can find. So what? I think that’s what everyone expects.

This Hardie guy is bad at PR.

beev March 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm

jza – not sure how you arrive at JUST those 2 solutions. I think looking at your first para it would be fair to say that TL just wantED $15k. The game has now changed somewhat….

jza March 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Exactly, how has the game changed and why?

beev March 4, 2011 at 9:42 pm

as per my initial post

“The public statements made by Slipstream sports and JV regarding this.”

“…..I regard some of the SS statements made as being very damaging.”

david b March 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Is this what being on a cycling team is like?

It reads like Lowe trained individually, worked with his own doctors, got specific, dodgy advice from a senior member of staff obviously not towing the organisations line..etc. That’s about as far from a team as I could have imagined. Is it normal that a rider on a pro team would receive this (lack of) support?

Maybe I’ve been spoiled after following (real) team sports for so long but it also disappoints me that a professional sports person is left to email the CEO discussing his blood values and fitness. Surely this is the role of either a doctor-CEO consultation or best of all rider-doctor-CEO consultation. This kind of ‘the rider is responsible for everything’ attitude facilitates riders deciding to take it upon themselves to dope. It seems that Lowe, like many riders before him was left to his own devices.

But then I guess one has to reflect on Vaughters’ stated commitments to the team, Garmin’s rapid growth, terrific success and finally, JV’s ability to rally the leaders and riders of all of the teams as the head of the AIGCP. He’s obviously respected and his methods are definitely working for some.

After the enlightening and honest new cycling pathways conference I believe Hardie has the best of intentions and whilst no doubt Lowe brought some of this upon himself I’m glad he’s finally receiving some professional support.

moving pictures March 5, 2011 at 1:34 am

jza you are being a bit hard on trent lowe this guy was a junior world mountain bike champion and as a 16 year old came out on a training ride called the hour of power in melbourne Australia pretty hard ride 40 odd ks in under an hour with traffic lights roundabouts , anyway he was on a quiet day max hr 140 and still dropped most people up the rises.So he does have a lot of talent and never a rumour about doping unlike lots of other pros,we are like old ladies us bike riders we do like to gossip at the coffee shop.

leif March 5, 2011 at 2:13 am

So why has Vaughter’s kept Danielson on SS?
To keep close what could be a potential enemy?
Sounds like the same situation Lowe was in.

ColoradoGoat March 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

One has to wonder if perhaps JV felt duped by Lowe. What if Lowe’s lack of success was due to doping? And based on JV’s recent reaction to Tondo, it seems pretty clear that if he suspects you of doping, then he will not bring you on the team. What is Lowe asserted he was clean, and only after getting the paycheck from Garmin, and then riding clean, did it become apparent that his success was due to pharma.

What if at that point, JV was stuck with a rider he did not want, but due to the publicity issue, had to keep him? And what if after searching far and wide, he finally found his one contractual clause allowing to to give Lowe a “Hey man – I knew what was up, and you ripped me off”?

This is the one issue I have with JV. Because he has still refused to be completely open and honest about his situation as a rider a decade ago, why would we suspect that he would not suppress any bad press that might tarnish the image of Garmin-Cervelo as a clean team?

The Inner Ring March 5, 2011 at 11:50 am

The point is we don’t know. I’m not extrapolating too far here.

Andrew March 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Besides your blog no other news outlet has touched this …..Ad$ at stake I assume? No one had any trouble printing St JV,s spray!

leif March 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Sorry…every time postal/disco comes up it is like a turd in the bathtub

Jarvis March 5, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Pay Lowe the winnings owed.

Let the “six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other” contract dispute run its course.

Move on

I was surprised at how little contact the boss has with the workers, given how hands-on Vaughters is and also, given his willingness to communicate with fans, how bad his communications can be within his own company.

beev March 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm

On the communications front, it would appear that JV’s latest tweets would amount to admitting constructive dismissal (or its legal counterpart under whatever jurisdiction is applicable).

The mean streak within JV is oh so reminiscent of a former colleague – you’re either gonna do it his way and be part of the inner circle, or you’re expelled….

Neil March 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm

http://nyvelocity.com/content/interviews/2011/trent-lowe

There’s a good interview here where Trent tells his version of events

The Inner Ring March 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

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