The Gran Fondo Baie Sainte Marie is just about as much fun you can have cycling for 117km as I can imagine anyone having. Beautiful scenery, including coastal, inland, historic, with stops at charming local cafes in a community that has gone all in to support a big bike tour.
It’s not often that a first year event, especially one with all the logistical challenges that come with a cycling tour, is such a huge success. But the Municipality of Clare pulled it off, Acadian flags flying.
With an original goal of 150 participants and a cap at 350, organizers quickly hit their target and decided to uncork the cap. The result was over 420 eager participants lining up at the start line in Saulnierville.
If you’re not familiar with Clare, it is the region locally known as La Baie, with the largest Acadian population in Nova Scotia. It follows along Route 1 between Digby and Yarmouth. It is a charming stretch of coastal settlements that can easily be in the running for Nova Scotia’s best kept secret.
A Gran Fondo is more than a cycling tour, it is a cultural event. With that in mind, participants were treated to a pre-ride mixer the night before that featured musical and dance performances, bowls of rapure, and a welcome from Samuel de Champlain.
Rest stops along the route featured salt fish, along with the standard fruit and water, and the route itself included views of beautiful churches, sawmills, fishing boats, and countless Acadian flags.
The 117km route follows the coastal road north to Saint-Bernard, then turns back inland to head south to Mavillette Beach before going north again to finish in Saulnierville. The variety of gorgeous scenery makes for a welcome distraction from the hills that you find once you turn away from the coast. There is also a 35km Piccolo, or P’tit Fondo.
The inaugural ride could not have had better weather. It was sunny and not too hot, with a tail wind to both begin and end the ride. Between 100 local participants, dozens of volunteers, many local sponsors and community members waving and cheering along the route, the community was out in full support of the Gran Fondo. I had a big grin on my face from start to finish on my ride. I wasn’t the only one.
The Gran Fondo is now one of two large fitness events in the region. Last weekends ride was followed by the first annual Marathon Baie Sainte-Marie this weekend, making this beautiful and culturally rich destination a growing attraction for those seeking unique fitness vacations, too.
We were invited to attend the event by the organizers to take photos and video that will be used to help promote the event next year. Look for that soon. In the meantime, here is some raw time lapse footage from the Piccolo route if you’d like a virtual ride.
Do you have any race related travel in your plans for 2016? What’s been your favourite race experience? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @gillianwesleyns
Event Date: September 24-25, 2016