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
1.(400m,00.0km)START-END 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 de l'Echelle
7.(500m,100.6km)START-END WEST: Susa, turnoff south from SS25


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 history section.

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 Milano.


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 rider

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