An interview with Trent Lowe, May 16, 2005
After taking second overall at the Redlands Classic and Best Young Rider at the Tour de Georgia, Trent Lowe has blasted into orbit as an accomplished cross country MTB and road racer. The 20-year-old Victorian has combined ample talent with amazing physical capabilities and a controlled approach to become arguably Australia's most promising mountain biker. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke caught up with 'T-Lowe' at his base in Colorado.
Place Trent Lowe's palmares next to his birth certificate and you'd be amazed. Born in October 1984, Lowe only began competitive cycling at 14 years of age, and by the age of 18 had become junior World Champion. Last year he became Australian Under 23 national champion after heading to the US to race. He took second in NORBA #3 that year before moving to the Subaru-Gary Fisher team in 2005 to race with some of America's best mountain bikers in Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Willow Koerber.
At this year's Redlands Classic Lowe rode his first pro road race, as part of the Jittery Joe's-Kalahari outfit, taking a win on stage 1 and finishing second overall, against experienced campaigners such as Tim Johnson, Charles Dionne and Scott Moninger. After another strong performance at Sea Otter (taking a win in the short track stage before crashing out on the last day) Lowe was off to Georgia, where he was an important part of Jittery Joe's assault on the Tour de Georgia.
"...even more satisfying was seventh place on the Brasstown Bald stage" - Lowe on his performance at the Tour de Georgia
It was all a bit hectic; "I crashed pretty heavily on the last day of Sea Otter - I was concussed; I realised I'd hit my head after seeing that the stickers on my helmet were missing...I'd only got that helmet a couple of weeks before." That night it was time to jump on a three hour flight to Georgia, where a three-hour time difference awaited him. "I started Georgia pretty hungover from the travel, the concussion and the time difference - it was a bit weird."
Taking to the start with new teammate Geoff Kabush and riders such as Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong, Lowe surprised most people, not least of all himself, with his performances - taking the Best Young Rider's jersey and 11th overall by the end of some extremely tough racing miles. When asked whether he expected to perform so well, he's typically modest; "Not at all. The best young rider was great to get, but even more satisfying was seventh place on the Brasstown Bald stage. To do that was great, considering just getting through the race would have been an achievement in itself. Also, where else do you get such quality training miles?" It's this last statement that indicates Lowe's constantly got his eyes on the prize, even when most would sit back and just have a look at their recent success.
"I reckon that bit of a rest after I crashed out at Sea Otter helped me; I was a bit fresher than I would've been if I'd had to keep riding flat out, and when the going got tough in Georgia the little 'break' I had was pretty useful." It was apparent that 'T-Lowe' had become a vital part of Jittery Joe's aspirations at Georgia as the week progressed, but allegiances were still well and truly with his new team for '05, Subaru-Gary Fisher. How does he enjoy riding with the likes of JHK, given the experience Horgan-Kobelski brings?
"Jeremy's great. As well as having all that experience he's a really well-rounded person, which helps in so many ways. He's helped me develop a controleed approach to my racing - not just going out and blowing myself...we work on the mental techniques involved with racing. Coaches tell riders that they have to develop the right mental approach, but in practice it's guys like Jeremy that really get you there."
Another big influence on Lowe's develop is teammate Willow Koerber, who has got Lowe thinking of the big picture when it comes to the game. "Willow's somewhat spiritual...she's studied psychology at uni and she's started to help me think in a particular way that enables me to get in the right mindset. Her influence has been really important, and they're things we can continue to work upon to get to the next level."
Before the interview Lowe had just returned from a five-hour wet and cold training ride in typically unpredictable Colorado weather; "I've been on a couple of rides since a two week break, but I can feel myself returning to good form already," which is testament to the physical capabilities of this rider. "For some reason I seem to ride well at altitude, which may explain my performance at Georgia, especially on the Brasstown stage."
It's this ability to perform in adverse conditions that no doubt attracted Subaru-Gary Fisher's management to the Victoria Institute of Sport scholarship holder; and he hasn't disappointed, taking second behind Adam Craig in Norba #1 for his new team already this season. But it hasn't been that easy for Lowe to make the transition from junior to senior racing, admitting that it was hard at first; "I would tell junior riders that it's going to be hard, but you'll be stronger for it. It's the increased speed of the racing, the distance and competing against guys with a lot of experience. If you can keep at it, however, it builds character and pays off in the long run."
"The margins between riders are much smaller at the senior level, too," Lowe explains. "In juniors there are a few really strong riders, and they'll usually win by a large margin; but at senior level it's so much tighter. I did surprise myself at how I've been able to not only keep up but push the more experienced campaigners. Racing against guys like Geoff [Kabush] it's not just a matter of trying to keep up with their pace but always trying to go beyond where you can go yourself, not what someone else can do."
"It's also tough making the transition because a lot of sponsors don't always see the value of putting money into a junior riders, and this can make it hard financially - I'm fortunate I've got Gary Fisher, Oakley and the VIS on board. It's a whole mix of things, though, that makes it hard when you first step up to the seniors." So does Lowe think there should be more money on offer in mountain biking?
"Yeah, it would help." He believes it provides that added incentive for riders. Most of of a rider's money comes from sponsors, which means they have responsibilities; but Lowe looks at riders like Lance Armstrong (even though he's a road rider) and it becomes a situation where doing your job well can make you enough money.
Along with financial concerns, moving Stateside from Australia was an obstacle Lowe faced; it didn't seem to bother him too much, however - "it was a little hard last year, when I first moved here, but Paul Rowney was a great help, especially on the racing side of things. He helped me settle in, and now I'm really enjoying living here in Colorado."
It's this positive attitude and willingness to always look forward that has got Lowe this far in such a short time. So of course he's looking forward to this year's World Championships and next year's Worlds in New Zealand - "I'll have to get family and friends to make the quick flight over to New Zealand to watch! It's so close to home." Seriously, however, Lowe is totally committed to taking the U23 crown before shooting for the senior title when his age allows him to.
And how does he think he'll fair come Worlds time?
"It's a funny thing - if you're good on the day, you'll bag it. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but with strong riders from Spain and Holland who, on their day, are capable of anything, it's hard to tell how I'll go. You've just gotta be on the ball on the day."
He sees his recent road exploits as training for MTB racing; "the road riding is great training for technique and strength on the bike," and when asked whether he'd consider making the switch to the road he knows exactly where he wants to be - "right now I just want to ride really well for Subaru-Gary Fisher and perform at the World Championships. They're my two big goals." His eyes are always on the prize, and explains a large part of why he's been so successful in such a short time.
And what about Beijing in 2008? "Yeah, that's definitely something I want to be a part of, and with the training programme I'm using and the goals we set each year, I feel I'm on track to be there. I mean, each year we set ourselves objectives, and as long as I keep achieving them, one step at a time, it should all work well."
Closer to home, however, and Lowe plans on using some endurance races as yet more strength training - "I'm going to do the Mont 24 hour and possibly even some more road races like the Grafton-Inverell [a 230km road classic in country New South Wales]. I did an 8 hour event before I travelled back to the States this year, and it really makes you strong - it's very good training."
Just when you thought you're confronted by a training machine-come-monster, we start talking about one of Lowe's passions, World Championship Rallying. "I love it. It's so awesome when you look at the way they get every bit of speed out of the car by being smart, not just by throwing a bigger engine in it. Technical modifications make all the difference, and the technique of the drivers is great."
His favourite driver has been Marcus Gronholm, the Finnish driver who spearheaded Peugeot's re-entry into the Championship, "but I guess I have to cheer on the Subaru guys now, considering they're a sponsor! But that's cool - they have Petter Solberg driving and the Aussie, Chris Atkinson. Petter is great - such a character and fast, too."
"I want to try and get to Pike's Peak for the event they run there - all these cars, and even trucks, climb the peak as fast as they can. It's great. If I'm not racing that weekend I'll definitely go." The driver that springs to mind when making comparisons to Lowe is the French driver Sebastien Loeb - the Citroen driver is still young, but after dominating the junior 'U23' class of world rallying, he made the step up; and in two seasons had become World Champion. Their names sound alike - their style similar; quietly but intensely focussed, great on gravel and very fast at such a young age.
And now for the burning question - will Lowe ever make the switch, like many before him, from dirt to tarmac?
"It's inevitable that I'll make the switch one day, but I've got a lot to achieve in MTB first. I was blown away by Georgia - the fans, the atmosphere; and I'd love to experience that more. Right now, however, I don't know where the last couple of months have gone, it's all happening so quickly!" Which probably means there's plenty more ahead for this young Australian; the trophy room back home may need an extension if he stays on this path.