With his attacking, aggressive style and impressive strength on the road, Saturn's Trent Klasna is one of the most exciting bike racers in America today. Though he's had a bit of a quieter season so far this year, he came up huge in Philly week last year, taking 3rd in the First Union Invitational, 5th in the First Union Classic, and 2nd to Fred Rodriguez in the USPRO Championship, ahead of US Postal's George Hincapie. He also won the 2001 editions of the Redland's Classic, The Sea Otter Classic, the US Time Trial Championship, and took 3rd in the inaugural running of the San Francisco Grand Prix.
An all-around powerhouse of a rider, the rangy Southern California native wasn't always the athletic ironman we see before us today. As a boy, he didn't participate in sports, preferring to spend his energies in making a name for himself as a "delinquent young boy." At the age of 18, during his senior year in high school, he was kicked out of his father's house, and found himself high and dry. "I ended up living on the streets for awhile," Trent says, "and finally moved in with some older punk rocker friends of mine, and got a part time job doing construction, which is kind of what I did until I was 19 years old." At 19, he lost his driver's license to a drunk driving charge, and found himself on a bike. "I lost my license and had to do some community service to repay my debt to society, and started riding a bicycle to the work sites." His older brother was racing, and Trent's mom gave him the option of moving in with her if he wanted to try to race, too. "I jumped all over it," he says.
By the age of 20, he was racing, and hanging out with his brother and his brother's friends, and it was there that he found the inspiration and the goal that has driven him ever since. "My brother was a huge inspiration to me," Trent says, "He never made it as a pro, but he had a lot of talent and really inspired me. He had a friend named Bob Mionske, who went on to be a two time Olympian, and US National Champion, and was staying at the house back then, right up to the 1988 Olympics, and I realized, 'Hey, you can go to the Olympics for riding a bicycle!' It just totally inspired me to make the Olympics. I mean, here I am, I've never played any sports, but I can go to the Olympics on my bike. So, for 10 years or more, actually, 12 years now, I've been trying to make the Olympic team. That's my ultimate goal."
In 1994, He won the US-Pro Criterium Championship, and the next year he was picked up by the dominating Chevrolet-LA Sheriff's team, and began his career as a professional bike racer. After a brief stint with the Comptel Team, and two years with Navigators in 1998 and 1999, he joined Saturn in 2000, and has been there ever since.
Achieving his current fitness has been a 12 year long process, and his training is notoriously hardcore. Training now with former teammate and Olympian Steve Hegg, he confirms the rumors that no one can keep up with him in the mountains around San Diego. "My average week is probably about 30 hours a week. There are a lot of people who do thirty hours a week, but I don't think they all do thirty hours a week in the mountains like I do."
Steve Hegg keeps an eye on Trent's training and offers him encouragement and inspiration. "He looks at what I'm doing and kind of gives me some ideas about how to change this or do that," Trent says, "and he's an old teammate and a good friend, so he'll come out to motor pace me, and spend four or five hours a day on the motorcycle with me. It's pretty encouraging to have someone like that that will do so much for you, that you have so much respect for. Just talking to him on the phone is motivating to me. I love the energy he has."
Known for his aggressive riding style, it isn't unusual to see Trent drilling it at the front of a breakaway all day long. "I have a lot of energy," he says, "I can't be held back very easily. I'm just thinking that I'm going to put whatever team is on the front in jeopardy because they can't keep that pace up." This year, on the last day at Redlands, Trent turned in a brilliant performance, but was foiled by Prime Alliance strongman Chris Horner: "That day I had the strongest guys in the race with me, except for Chris Horner, and I was thinking that if Chris's team blew up trying to chase me, that would be good, and that even if I did get caught, I'd have other teammates ready to go. As it turned out, it worked out that I got caught just a the right time for Chris, and it worked out well for him." Trent explains. "It's definitely a gamble."
"I just don't have very good patience," he says. "I try... I really do try to relax and calm down and let the team do whatever the plan is, but I just get impatient and frustrated sometimes; not with my team, but with other riders, their lack of enthusiasm and lack of energy. Tactics are a huge part of it, and maybe it hurts me sometimes, but last year it paid off great for me, so you never know."
If he gambled big in Redlands this year, he had his reasons: "I had a lot of pressure on myself that day, I wanted to ask my wife to marry me on the podium, and so I was really riding with my heart and just wanted it so bad, but it just didn't happen."
The past year has seen some big changes in Trent's life: he sold his house and replaced it with a motor home, and he was recently married. Asked his new wife's name, he responds "Tracy Klasna," with charming pride and enthusiasm. He met Tracy at the end of last season in Miami at the final event of the Pro Cycling Tour. He had been with his ex-girlfriend for ten years, and she with her then-boyfriend for nine, but when they met, they both "just knew it was right." Trent and Tracy travel around in their motor home, with Trent's two rescued dogs. "It's a little bit of a strange life? something you can definitely do when you're young."
After running out of challenges in the mountains around San Diego, Klasna felt it was time to "go conquer some new territories," and he went up to the Pacific Northwest looking for a place he might want to live. While he was driving around, he says, "I just started thinking about how much fun I had in 1994 when I made it to a pro team, that just driving around in my pick-up was part of why I was able to get a place on the team, and that was one of the most fun times I've ever had in cycling, so why not go buy a motor home? It was something weird that just came over me, and the next day I bought a motor home."
Traveling around in search of the good rides hasn't always been the most ideal situation, but Trent's having fun with it: "I'm definitely exploring, but I'm going back down to San Diego in July." He says, "It's been a learning curve doing this whole motor home thing. My wife and I have been up near Sacramento in the Sierras for a month and a half, and it's been good to be stable, but I also need to go back to where I know the rides, and where what I was doing before was working. Right now it's kind of hit and miss, but I'm making it work for me. Still, it's not the most ideal and relaxing way to race my bicycle. The motor home thing is going to take effect more in the wintertime when I get a chance to take a break, and can go out and ride easy, and don't have to do the intensity that I'm doing now."
For now, Trent continues to race for Saturn. He is contracted for one more year with the team, and he still dreams of making the US Olympic team. "I have one more shot at that: that's how I look at it. It's going to be hit and miss. There's usually only one spot up for grabs, and I'll try for it." He says. In the past, he has helped his teammates in the Olympic trials, and hopes this year his day will come: "I helped Steve Hegg make it at The Olympic trials. I mean, I drove it for him as long as I could and got dropped knowing that he had a better chance to make it. Steve was a better rider than I was then, so I had no problem sacrificing my goal for the better of the team. In 2000, I was in a long breakaway, probably when I shouldn't have been, and got caught. I made the next breakaway and ended up helping Antonio Cruz win the race." Even though he didn't win himself, he was happy with the part he was able to play. "It was such a good thing. Even though I haven't made it, I've helped some good friends of mine make it, and maybe this time it will be my turn."
At thirty-two, Trent is still loving his life as a professional bike racer. "I'm having more fun now than I ever was before. I used to say I was going to quit when I was thirty-five years old, but now I look at my teammate, Eric Wohlberg, and he's stronger now than ever before and I think he's still having fun himself. If I'm 36 and still having fun, why would I want to get a real job? I have no idea what I'd want to do after cycling, so I'm in no hurry to go out and find my alternative life."
The fact is, Trent just loves to ride his bike. A few days before Housatonic, Trent was in Connecticut, preparing to race, and says "I went out to do three and a half hours on the road. I didn't take a map, or tools to find my way around; I just went out to ride my bike, and just felt what a great freedom it is to be able to just go out and explore new areas, meet new people when you stop at stores or whatever, and just get around. I mean, what a great way to have transportation! When I was coming home, I was in the last five miles and I was know I was smiling, and a guy I know that works for the Saturn corporation drove by me the other way and honked, probably thinking, 'what a weirdo!' because I'm just sitting there, smiling and riding my bike."
What about racing?
"Racing is definitely something else. The excitement of going so fast around corners and being so close to other riders is intense. You're in a battle zone in a sense. It isn't really just playing a friendly game of chess. It's very aggressive, and you have to just give it a go."
"If you're going to win races, you can't be timid."