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Colle delle Finestre

This pass contains a 8 km long unpaved section, but it is still popular with many road bike riders. The reason for such a thing is always a famous bike race. In this case the Giro D'Italia of 2005 and 2011 climbed the unpaved side and descended a freshly paved south side. I have seen both designation Colle (hill) and Passo or Col  (pass) used for this high road.

1.(500m,00.0km)START-END NORTH: Susa, turnoff south from SS25
2.(600m,02.0km)route crosses under Mt Cenis tunnel rail line.
3.(2176m,19.2km)TOP: Colle delle Finestre
4.(1900m,23.9km)turnoff to Asietta Ridge Road on right
5.(1430m,30.5km)START-END SOUTH: profile turns left down SS23
7.(400m,67.9km)START-END SOUTH ALT: west end of Pinerolo


From North.
in order to show the maximum elevation gain, I was going to start the profile all the way back in Torino, somewhere along all those long arched walkways, in which you can practically traverse the city without being exposed to direct sunlight. The road then slowly extracts itself from suburbia and already climbs quite a bit. But actually - after the initial climbs, leaving that city through St Michelle, Bussoleno and a host of other villages, the Susa valley itself is comparatively flat. The climbing really does take place between Susa and the summit. And so the profile starts in Susa.

In Susa I discovered that there is actually a bicycle road up and down the Susa Valley - a little late. But it is longer than the direct road, and for a heavily loaded touring bike it may take a while to find. In Susa the main routes to Col Montgenevre and Col Mt Cenis separate. To pick up the signed turnoff to Col Finestre you follow the southern route around Susa, heading for Col Montgenevre.

A quiet, narrow road climbs through forest alive with the sound of birds to Mena de Susa, only 100 hundred meters higher, but it seems like more. Here the main raill ine crosses over the road on a massive pedestal. There are signs for a hotel here too.

The quiet, narrow road withdraws into the woods again, and starts a flurry of short switchbacks. One might as well just settle in and ride, ride, ride, turn 180 degrees, ride, ride, ride. Apparently the mapmakers became a little weary of so many small switchbacks too. The track recorded on my GPS is quiet a bit different than the road on the Freizeitkarte (openstreetmap) rendition. But in any case the bike made 25 switchbacks between the rail crossing and the part where the road finally pulls north into a high valley. The trees remain a constant enclosure of bird calls, even when the road finally gives up its impeccable pavement for smooth dirt. But this dirt pavement does not have drainage channels, like some other dirt roads in the alps. So after a day of rain it may be a very wet surface. Slowly the green enclosure draws back in favor of high grasses. Here a cheesemaker has made his home togehter with his and his perpetually ringing cows.

For the last large step the road returns to its initial strategy: switchbacks. But here they are held up by old stonework on meter high walls. But nothing is there to keep you or anything else from falling off them. Also - the switchbacks here are considerably longer, and in my case disappear in the clouds below. This is the reason why I can't say anything about far views from my own experience. I count 15 switchbacks in this second section.

Weather conditions blow a hole into the clouds on he south side, and so snow capped peaks float footlessly above a green glowing valley, dissected by tracks trying to climb out of it. A short walk to the north leads to a massive fortification. Next to the pass sign is a relief of the cyclist reaching this top first in the 2005 stage, Danilo di Luca, even if a Venezuelan won the stage.

From South.
(described downwards) Impeccable pavement starts up again - or so it seems-  at the exact top. On this side the narrow road stays above treeline for a long roll into a relatively gentle looking valley. But this pavement has its quirks. At one point it becomes so wavy, the best way to describe it is, that it loos like someone just poured concrete over a small bounder field. I fell off the bike directly onto my shoulder, but otherwise managed to survive.

Just after that the turnoff for the Assietta Ridge dirt road on the right, I reach a picnic table below a picturesque crucifix, an opportune place for me to say thanks, that I was hurt, but not so seriously to stop riding.

On the last switchbacks the road collects a few massive stone houses in these luxuriant looking, quiet villages, and then joins the wide paved road between Pinerolo and Col de Sestriere. I turn up to the latter, but the profile goes down to Pinerolo to show maximum elevation gain.

Historical Notes:

The road was build in the 1700s to access old fortifications on the Assietta Ridge. The fortress on top of the pass was built in 1891 and planned to house about 80 men. It was supposed to act as support to the Assietta fortress further up on the ridge. The Finestre fortress has its own well, that also functions as an unusual water source for cyclists on top of the pass today. The well was so important, that it had a name: Muro. It was also the weak point of the fort, because it could be polluted by an enemy without attacking the fort first.

But when the time came and WW1 broke out, all the fortifications in the western alps were abandoned, because the war front was further east in Austria. It was decommissioned in 1928, but unlike other fortifications in the area was still used for logistical functions such as ammunition depot

Before WW2 the old forts on the Assietta Ridge already had years of decay behind them. During this time the road network on the ridge was reworked.

Cycling: The narrow thread of pavement that winds up the north side, was laid down especially for the descent in the 2005 Giro d'Itlia stage. The surface on the north side was also improved for the race by pressing the surface hard. The partially unpaved climb was included again in the Giro of 2011 and is planned to be the highest point of the 2015 Giro. The 8 km unpaved section of switchbacks at the top remains.



Colle delle Finestre , Col de Sestriere : Susa > with detours to start of Via Colle Finestre > Colle Finestre > Fraisse > Pragelato > Col de Sestriere > Claviere > Ouix > back to starting point in Susa with a shopping detour: 64.7miles with 8461ft of climbing in 7:16hrs (Garmin etrex30: m4:14.6.16)

The last day over a pass on this tour is on page: Passo de Gavia