The Colle Delle Finestre – the window pass – lies in to Cottian Alps some 50km to the west of the industrial city of Turin, in Italy’s northwestern Piemonte region. We were in Torino recently and having my cross bike with me I just couldn’t resist the lure of this Alpine giant. The Colle Delle Finestre is many things, but what it is not is a climb steeped in pro-cycling history. Like Spain’s ultra-steep Alto de l’Angliru (1999) and France’s twisty, multi-sided Col du Grand Columbier (2012), these climbs have been relatively recently added to their countries respective Grand Tour cannons and each brings its own unique characteristic. What does the Colle delle Finestre have, in the off chance you don’t already know? Sterrato. (Gravel).
Like most road cycling climbs the Finestre begins on tarmac, departing the town of Susa, and immediately heading up the steep wall of the Susa valley. The first kms of the Finestre are tough, and what follows does little to relent. Within minutes, the steepest 14% ramp of the climb begins and shortly after there is a somewhat gaudy commemorative visual to the climb found in Meana de Susa. It’s here that you learn the climb was first used in the Giro d’Italia in 2005 and most recently was the Cima Coppi of the race in 2015.
Climbing out of Meana de Susa brings a further collection of steep ramps and tough kilometers. The climb quickly settles into a very steady 9% grade and a collection of seductive hairpins, which are a joy to ride and make the lower km’s breeze by. In fact, you’ll have to be careful not to get so entranced that you start pushing too hard, blitzing hairpin after hairpin, as it’s good to leave something in the bank for what’s to come ahead on this long and high climbing test.
At the twelfth kilometer, the landscape of the climb changes from asphalt to gravel but you’re eased into it as the conditions of the surface are initially quite good. This road was originally built as a military service road to access the fortress near the peak and for draft horses to drag artillery to defensive locations. This is the reason for the steady 9% grade which eased the workload on the animals. However, for the cyclist, it’s no such luck and unless you ride the Finestre near a time in which it features in a Giro – when it’s graded to a very smooth presentation – the rains and traffic chew the Finestre apart and the higher you go, the worse and thus harder it becomes.
I rode the Finestre with 700×28 tires and compact gearing on a cross bike and although I’m fond of saying most climbs in the Alps (specifically in France) are “big ring climbs” the Finestre is not one of those. Nor is it an extremely difficult climb, but the combination of the loose gravel and the high alpine winds make for a beastly effort. The Finestre is the most difficult climb I have done in the Alps. The upper portions of the Finestre (in Sept ’16) were heavily rutted and loose and it took some leg-sapping efforts to power up and through those loose sections gravel and large stones.
Once at the top, the views alone make even a quick up and down more than worthwhile. It is, without a doubt, a highly recommended destination and a very fun and unique climb. From the 2176m summit you can continue down the other side to Sestriere, for the “Giro” experience, and then loop back to Susa on the highway for a 100km lap. I’m hoping that I’ll soon get a chance to return as I only had a few hours for the whole experience and had to rush back down to Turin, but I understand there is a large network of gravel roads – the Strade dell’Assietta – up on the ridge that are said to be sublime gravel riding.