Colle delle Finestre

WORDS & PHOTOS: Phil Deeker

The infamous Colle delle Finestre features as the penultimate and perhaps decisive climb in tomorrow’s Tappa 20 of the Giro d’Italia. Phil Deeker is researching the route ahead of the Gran Corsa d’Italia, and couldn’t resist a crack of the whip.

I found myself in the valley below Meana di Susa at 2pm looking at the sign Colle delle Finestre 19km and just couldn’t resist. I promised myself that I would ‘take it easy’, but the first two kms up to the village of Meana just happen to be the steepest and the hottest. The gradient percentage works its way through the ‘teens until it reaches 20%, briefly. I was straight into bottom gear. My eyes stung with sweat and my heart tried desperately to bust its way out of its rib cage. Fortunately that was to be the worst part of the climb. This Col has shot straight into my Top Ten. A true ‘Life Is Good’ experience. To ride it just three days before the Giro arrives here obviously spiced up the experience a little more.

After the brutal first two kms, which had wobbled my enthusiasm a little, followed a more ‘playful’ section. The perfect road winds through beautiful old chestnut woods, taking 32 hairpins to cover 6kms. The gradient is kinder (5-7%), the shade a redeemer. I felt less flustered and looked forward to the rest of the climb once more. As if knowing I was ready, the mountain wasted no time in delivering its next blow. Round a bend and the gradient cranked back up to 11%.

Gone the hairpins, gone the chestnuts, the road got down to serious business. That is until a massive concrete barrier and a Daddy-of-a-bulldozer blocked the road. I asked the labourers, busy doing I wasn’t sure what, if “bicci” could go through, and got the thumbs up. I could see why they wanted no one driving up here, this was where the strada dirt took over for the remaining nine kms to the top as the gradient stayed within the 8-11 % bracket. The dirt track added a percent or two in terms of effort required.

But any effort here was worth it, the scenery was up there with the best I’ve seen. Marmots popped out to have a look, clouds swirled and gradually views to the top opened up as the bright spring-green larch trees gave in to the harsher climate. Snowdrifts were still busy melting but fortunately only twice did this all over the road. The last two hairpins were made of mud, the stuff that is wet and sticky (and quite hard to cycle through on a road bike). If it rains on race day things will get very messy.

Perched on a ridge to the right a large ruined fortress gives this barren place an even more hostile flavour. Cols are not made for hanging around on anyway. The glory is in getting up them. I checked out the views on all sides, did a quick photo, then wrapped up for the descent. With relief I saw tarmac for when I ride here again in three weeks at the end of the Gran Corsa d’Italia. But today I had to weave my way back down the dirt (interesting practice in bike control on a couple of occasions) until I could play on the 30 hairpins below. I’m glad I didn’t resist climbing such a wild, beautiful road.