By Neal Rogers
One man competing at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour after a long spell off the radar is Garmin-Slipstream’s Trent Lowe, who has been absent from the pro peloton for nearly the entire 2009 season.
In 2008 Lowe, who is just 25, had his strongest season to date, finishing as Garmin’s highest-placed rider at the Tour of the Mediterranean, Paris-Nice and Critérium International. At each race the young Aussie placed in the top 20 overall. Those rides, combined with his second-place overall at the Tour de Georgia, earned Lowe a start at the 2008 Tour de France, his first grand tour, which he finished in 74th place.
After racing this year’s Amgen Tour of California Lowe fell ill, and then went to Paris-Nice, where he said he felt “nearly dead.” Soon after he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, an illness that took him out of racing from March through September, months spent resting and struggling to return to form. He returned with the Tour of Britain, and is now back at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, a race where he finished third overall in 2007 and sixth overall in 2006, both times riding with the Jayco Australian National Team.
VeloNews caught up with Lowe at the start of the preface criterium in Ballarat to find out where he’s been, and how he’s doing.
VeloNews: The 2008 season was the best year of your career, in terms of making strides as a ProTour rider. At what point during this season did you realize things were drastically different?
Trent Lowe: Earlier in the season things were definitely different. I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought I’d just knuckle down… you do your preparation as you normally would and things just sort themselves out. It really wasn’t like that at all. I probably ended up training and working harder than I ever had, not knowing I was in a state of fatigue, and that I was only digging my whole deeper.
VN: What point in the season was this?
TL: Probably in March. After the Tour of California I got a bit crook. At Paris-Nice, I was pretty much dead there. I had a bit of rest and three weeks without racing and tried to put a bit of training together and started to feel a bit better then. Then I started riding to get my form better, in April and May, and that’s when I really dug myself a hole. By the end of May I was pretty stuck, really. May and June, and July and August, I was resting and renewing, really.
VN: Where did you spend that time?
TL: I was in Europe for a bit, and then I actually went to Denver for a bit as well, caught up with some friends and took a bit of time out. I just laid low, I had at least four weeks off the bike. I had to. You don’t feel like a whole lot at all when you’re at the worst of it.
VN: So was this the Epstein-Barr virus?
TL: No. I had all that stuff tested, parasites, glandular fever, and it all came back negative. It was just chronic fatigue. You have headaches, you sleep 12 hours a day, you don’t remember stuff, and you don’t feel like getting up off the couch at all. I probably only felt that bad for a month or so. Things have been getting progressively a lot better. A reduced workload than normal is what I’m able to get through.
VN: So there is no definitive diagnosis for chronic fatigue?
TL: It’s a gray area. Chronic fatigue is a set of symptoms. And if it goes on for long enough, it can become chronic fatigue syndrome, and that can go on for years. And that’s a real nasty thing, you have to be careful you don’t get that. That’s how I understand it.
VN: Were you working with team doctors in Girona to figure it out?
TL: There was some team staff I was working with, but it was mostly doctors closer to home in Valencia.
VN: So you live in Valencia instead of with the rest of the team in Girona?
TL: Yeah, I’ve been down there a few years. I like it there, and have it all set up there.
VN: What was it like with the team? Were they asking you to go to races throughout the season, and you had to continue telling them you weren’t even training?
TL: It wasn’t so much like that at all. I kept trying and trying, and they could see I was doing that, and they said look, you need some time out, that’s fine. Jonathan Vaughters was really supportive. What he says is that we look out for our riders: “If they need time out. We’re there for their development, rather than just trying to get a value out of them at a given time.” And they’ve really stuck to that. Jonathan has been fantastically supportive with me having a rough season, just allowing me the time I need to get on top of things.
VN: It’s got to be tough, because it’s not like an injury like a broken collarbone, where you know you need eight weeks and you’re back. There is no definitive end date for something like this.
TL: I think it would have been simpler to break a bone. And you don’t want to sound like you’re just making excuses. You get a bit delusional, too. You think, “I’m fine, I just need to train more.”
VN: Do you think your 2008 season, the race load, racing the Tour de France as your first grand tour, might have had anything to do with this?
TL: Yeah, for sure I think so. I think it’s fine to do most of what I did last year, but I need to be more selective of what I do in between seasons, and in between races as well. I need to periodize a bit smarter than what I had been doing. That’s experience as well. You look at the older guys on the team, and I think they’ve all made that mistake at a younger point in their career. Now you see them, they’ve got it dialed. They know when to rest, they know when to train, and they know right where their head is going to be. I guess I can chalk it all up to a good learning experience.
VN: How do you feel now?
TL: I raced Tour of Britain, that was the only race I’ve come back for. I still don’t feel like I’ve come back up from the training load as I might have once been able to, but I’m certainly a lot better than I was months ago. Things are getting to a good level. It’s the off-season now, I’ve got a bit more time now to rest and fully heal. Based on how bad I was feeling a few months ago, now I’m confident I’ll be right soon, before long.
VN: Given how close it is to the off-season, were you ever considering just calling it a season, rather than riding yourself back into form just for Britain and the Sun Tour, only to shut it down again?
TL: It’s frustrating though, because you want to race, and you want to do this stuff. I wanted to race. You don’t want to stop racing, but you can’t at that point. I’d much rather be here racing.
VN: You’ve finished third here before. But it sounds as though the podium is not the objective this year.
TL: It’s a real lottery this race. Typically the way it works on the first stage is 10 or 15 guys might get away in a breakaway, or it might split in the wind, and that’s where the general is decided. They’ll end up with 15 or 20 minutes. Both years I’ve done it, it’s been like that. With the wind in these open fields, the country we’re starting in, it’s probably going to be decided in the wind in the next few days.
VN: So will be getting into that move be an objective of yours?
TL: Sure, but there will also be 90 other guys trying as well, and obviously everyone can’t do it, but as long as we’re covering our numbers and we have someone in it, we’ll all be trying for it.
Editor’s note: Lowe was tangled up in a crash early on in stage 1 and ended up on the wrong side of the decisive split, finishing in the main peloton 10 minutes behind the front group of 41 riders.