Col de Sestriere
Col de Sestriere is not marked on many roadmaps. Maybe it
felt redundant to put the name "Col de Sestriere"
exactly next to the town name Sestriere. This pass is
located in the town center of the olympic skiing resort for
the year 2006. The wide roads and the elaborate ritzy
infrastructure, needed for the olypics are also very useful
for a large bike race, and so the Tour de France and the
Giro d'Italia finished many stages up here
EAST ALT: west end of Pinerolo
3.(1430m,37.1km)START-END EAST: the descend from Colle
Finestre joins from the right
4.(2035m,52.9km)TOP: Colle Del Sestriere
5.(1360m,64.6km)Cesana Torinese and jct with road to
Col de Montgenevre
6.(1050m,77.2km)jct with road to Bardonecchia and Col
7.(500m,100.6km)START-END WEST: Susa, turnoff south
From East. The profile starts in Pinerolo.
But the description begin further up the valley, where I picked
up the road after coming down Colle
de Finestre. The fact, that this is an amazingly wide
road, wich still has very little traffic, comes as a complete
surprise to me. But then - this is June, and I am heading for a
prime ski resort.
If money travels, it needs wide roads, and Sestriere
delivers. This makes the whole ride very relaxing, looking at
all these well kept villages with massive stone walls, with
construction cranes pulling up new structures. The road passes a
ski jumping arena. Past Pragelato a single large switchback
delivers the first view of a white wall as background to the
well kept country side. Soon the plot of the road becomes clear.
A ski lift descends in a straight line from the highest ridge
ahead, apparently intersecting with a power line heading uphill.
The latter breathes life into the resort.
Actually the powerline crosses a little above the town. But a
solid wall of condo towers marks the spot ahead, where one might
otherwise expect the decaying walls of a WW1 fortification or a
picturesque church tower, that threatens to collapse, if it were
not for skiing scene.
But Sestriere is still an amazingly interesting and different
cycling summit. Entering town, you first ride along a fabricated
set of row houses like in a factory town, but in this case
housing every kind of business, where a skier might spend money.
In June it has a pleasant ghost town look. Even in the town
center - the commercial heart of the town, just a block above
the pass, only a single person is reading a newspaper,
completely oblivious to anything that might be going on around
him - like me taking a photo of my bicycle in front of the
statue of a headless olympics medalist. This sculpture is an
actual artistic statement, very capable of igniting argument and
controversy, something that would be unimaginable in another ski
resort - Vail for example, much closer to where I love.
From North. (described downwards)
The exact highest point of the pass is just below the turnoff to
the "main square", or octagon. But the most unusual
buildings are a short distance to the north. Two hotels appear
to be housed in, what looks like the conversion of an old water
tower from the industrial revolution into modern "loft
space". Of course here they first had to build the
"old water tower from the industrial revolution". -
More details on this innovative architecture below in the
There are a few route variations possible on this side. I
took the main road. Soon the bike rolls on its own again, and
the lympically inspired foreground disappears in favor of a
sinusoidally winding roads, snowcapped walls reaching to over
3000m on the French Italian border, and also a few picturesque
little villages without water towers. The descend has hardly any
switchbacks. One can just let it roll.
Before entering the attractive looking town of Claviere, you
can see the enormously long gallery, burrowing its way down from
Col Montgenevre under a
massive block of a mountain.
The next section down to Susa serves as lower approach for
Col de Sestiere and Col
Montgenevre. The road now stays in the valley, but has a few
more surprises in store. There is a short climb before Exiles,
followed by the biggest WW1 fort in existence - Exiles itself.
The road stays just above the village. The houses nestle at the
feet of a massive ramp up to the fort. The view from the road is
at the level of the stone roofs. It is like surveying an
imaginary landscape of slanted rock plains.
While the railroad on the other side of the steep valley
traverses along the forest, the main traffic carrier - the
expressway goes up on stilts. Foreshortened at one point it has
a futuristic on-stilts look. Finally a last long winding descend
leads into Susa. But the profile continues all the way back to
The Romans A road through this pass dates back to the Roman
Military leader Pompey, who picked this route in 77BC for a road
into southern France, and onwards to Spain. For the purpose of
connecting Rome with this part of southern France, it is the
shortest option, though today it seems it would have been easier
to go down the longer northern route in the Susa Valley.
The name Sestriere comes from a stone, that the Romans used
to mark their roads. It was the 6th stone placed equidistantly
from Turino. The Valle de Chisone remained the main traffic
artery towards France until the 1980s. Then the opening of the
Mt Cenis Tunnel. shifted traffic into the Susa Valley.
It is speculated that Hannibal also took this route on his way
to invade Rome.
Cycling. The summit plays an important role in the
world's two most popular bike races, the Giro d'Italia and the
Tour de France. Being so close to the French border, the French
Tour always climbed the pass from its home direction, the west,
while the Giro crossed it in all conceivable directions.
During the third Giro d'Italia in 1911, there was a
determination to include a climb to a 2000 meter summit for the
first time. Motivation was provided by Tour de France
organizers, who included the first 2000 meter summits in the
Pyrenees during the previous year. The Giro stage ran from
Mondovi to Turin and was 302km long. A Frenchman who grew up in
Argentinia, Lucien Petit-Breton lead the stage while going over
the pass and went on to win it. He rode a Fiat bike. The T in
Fiat stands for Toriono, and Fiat's founder was instrumental in
developing the area as a ski resort
During the Giro d'Italia of 1914 the weather was less friendy.
Rain, frezzing cold and low clouds not only made it
difficult for the riders, the officials also were confused, so
that no record exists who crossed the pass first. But the stage
was won by Angelo Gremo in Cuneo, 14 minutes ahead of the next
1996 was another year where the outcome of the Tour de France
stage over the pass was determined by the weather. There was no
outcome. It was supposed to be a stage, that runs from Val
d'Isere over Col de L'Iseran,
Col du Galibier and finish
on the top of Sestriere. Snow and strong winds caused organizers
to change this brutal stage to a race for a 46km stage that
still included Col de Montgenevre, and ended in Sestriere. The
race was exceedingly fast at 39kph, during a period known for
high EPO doping rates.
Race fans also remember 1992, when Italian Claudio Chiapucci
attacked during the first part of the stage and held off the
entire peloton for 200km before winning solo on top of the pass.
The racers most connected with the climb to Sestriere is
probably Fausto Coppi. He lead the race over the top, the first
time the Giro d'Italia included it. He also won the first Tour
de France stage that finished here. In 1952 he again combined a
Tour victory with a Giro win. That year he became the first
winner of the Alp d'Huez climb, and the next day won the Tour de
France stage to Sestriere.
Skiing: Sestriere hosted the winter olympics in 2006. But
the two cylindrical hotel towers date from much earlier.
Sestriere first became a ski resort in the 1930s and was further
developed after the second world war. The two characteristic
hote towers were also built at that time by Fiat founder
Giovanni Agnelli. The towers were actually among the first
buidlings in the village.
A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on
page: Col delle Finestre