Top cycling challenges for 2021: Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

by Dean Campbell

Travel advisory: please follow local COVID restrictions and the recommendations of all local health authorities. While we love travelling with our bikes, please wait until it is safe to do so. Until then, look ahead and plan for the next big adventure

The cycling boom of 2020 has shown no sign of letting up, which means that more than ever, people will be out looking for places to ride. We’ll be showcasing some great routes from across Canada that you can experience in your own way, whether that’s after a new fastest known time, on a photo ramble or as an easy pedal in search of swimming holes on a hot summer’s day.

Andrew L’Esperance’s Cabot Trail

Have a conversation with Andrew L’Esperance of Norco Factory Racing, and he’ll pretty quickly be talking about his home province of Nova Scotia and how to best see it from the saddle of a bike. He’ll rattle off route names and list corresponding cafés and lookouts and explain that, across the province the people will be the kindest, most welcoming folks you’ll ever meet.

RELATED: Touring the best trails in Nova Scotia with Andrew L’Esperance

It’s with all of that in mind that he describes the way he’d like to ride the Cabot Trail his next time around. “I did it when I was 23. At the time, I wanted it to be a mission and to go fast,” the World Cup racer says from his new home in Victoria. He completed the route in a little more than 10 hours. “Now I really want to do it with time to explore and enjoy good coffee and food.”

Exploring the trail

Prior to moving west at the start of 2021, L’Esperance and his partner and Norco teammate Haley Smith were trying to squeeze in the route to help close out a year that went wildly off-plan. COVID cancelled much of the race season, shifting the goals that both riders had set. They got married in three small, separate services to ensure that family and friends could help celebrate while respecting restrictions on travel and gatherings.

As November rolled in, so too did harsh weather from the Atlantic Ocean. The plan to complete the 300-km route in two days fell apart as daylight hours dwindled. “The raw and natural beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands is spectacular,” says L’Esperance, whose route comprises more than 4,300 m of climbing. “Some of the bigger climbs on the route start at the seaside and climb for 400 m. The views from the top are spectacular. Beyond the main loop, there are small gravel roads to explore, too.”

Accommodations along the route range from camping to a luxury golf course. L’Esperance points out that the selection of quaint bed and breakfasts along the Cabot Trail are a great way to meet the locals. COVID has also complicated plans to do the ride in 2021, though L’Esperance and Smith are keen to head east and take on the challenge when circumstances permit.

To plan your own ride of the Cabot Trail, plenty of online resources are available to help. The route is a popular loop for tourists, making mid-week riding plans a smart choice to avoid the heaviest traffic.

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