The Adventurer

Biking with the big boys

Given the chance to go cycling with Lance Armstrong, I managed to do the unthinkable: I fell flat on my face. Still, the opportunity to ride with a champion is rare; this one came during a tour of the Texas hill country, organized by Trek Travel, a three-year-old division of Trek Bicycles. Trek's outings—the hills of Provence, Tuscan villages, the mountains of Glacier National Park—are on par with those of other high-end bike-tour operators. But what sets a Trek journey apart is the deep connection to the cycling world (Armstrong has won the Tour de France six consecutive years on a Trek) and the fact that you get to ride the company's bikes. Mine was a Madone 5.2 road bike, a high-performance stunner with a carbon-fiber frame that weighs 16 pounds and sells for $3,000. For more serious cyclists, there's the Madone SL 5.9 ($5,500), designed for Armstrong to ride last year during the Tour.

The Texas trip led five riders past the charming towns of Bandera, Kerrville, and Fredericksburg, southwest of Austin, through the steep terrain that cyclists refer to as the Texas Alps. The rides were flawlessly organized, but for a $10,000 experience (the fee includes a $5,000 donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation), some of the hotels and meals were too casual. However, I was heartened when another participant told me that Trek's Canadian Rockies trip used stellar hotels. Our guides, Rebecca Falls and Tony Raymond, were at a level of sports conditioning that is, in fact, otherworldly. "There are two kinds of cyclists," Raymond was obliged to tell us at the beginning, "those who have fallen and those who will fall."

When we arrived in Austin, where we'd ride with Armstrong, we were joined by a Goldman Sachs executive and his son who jetted in from New York (that's a $20,000 afternoon). We all met Lance—just your average charming, charismatic, world-champion, cancer-surviving hero—and then we set off. Several miles out, we approached a stop sign and a hard right turn. Concentrating on the curve, I didn't notice that the road immediately became a steep hill. In too high a gear, I frantically downshifted and made the chain jump off the front derailleur. Down I went. And up pulled a Trek van carrying a lovely young woman who reattached my chain. Lance disappeared over the hill and I tried to look on the bright side: If you're going to take your first fall, it might as well be with a world champion. Rates for most trips, $1,000-$4,000; 866-464-8735;
—William Middleton