The Cottian Alps in northwest Italy's Piemonte region is, rather poetically, the setting of the latest video from Mike Cotty and the Col Collective – and its subject is the Colle delle Finestre, which despite only making its Giro d’Italia debut a decade ago, has become a firm favourite with fans.
It’s never hosted a stage finish – on the three occasions it has been featured in the race, the first of them in 2005, the riders have continued to Sestriere. Each time, the ascent has been from the north, for good reason – the last 8 kilometres are gravel on that approach, which would make it too dangerous for a descent.
The way down the other side is still a challenge mind – fast, technical and on narrow roads with no barriers. Have a look at Cotty tackling at the bottom of the article.
In its first appearance in 2005, Danilo di Luca of Liquigas-Bianchi was the first rider over, and it was conquered by Vasil Kiryienka, then at Caisse d’Epargne, in 2011 on his way to a storming breakaway win.
Last year, Mikel Landa was the first rider over but was ordered to wait for his Astana team leader Fabio Aru, who was hoping to take the pink jersey off Alberto Contador on what was the penultimate stage – Aru would win the stage, but was unable to take the race lead.
Here’s what Cotty has to say about the climb:
It took all but an hour during the 2005 Giro d’Italia for the Colle delle Finestre to become a cycling superstar. I remember watching the race and as the road turned to dirt thinking “what on earth is this climb? Man, I’ve got to do this!” It was right there on the spot that my (let’s say, mild) obsession with the Finestre began and, having been back from time to time to refuel the flame, that fascination is only getting stronger on every ride.
To try and describe the Finestre in words is something of an injustice. Its dense forest can feel somewhat overbearing as you wind your way up from the Val di Susa in the north, hairpin after hairpin, no respite from the gradient and seemingly oblivious to the world that’s about to unfold. A near perfect line across the road with 8km to go is the true starting point at which has made the Finestre so famous, where the asphalt turns to dirt, the heart rate quickens and your inner chimp starts to squeak … it’s on like Donkey Kong!
It’s as if the more you push the more the Finestre delivers. Mountain views open up before you as you pick your line through every turn and climb towards its 2,178m summit. If I can offer some advice on conquering this mountain it would be simple. Be prepared for all conditions, finesse wins over brute force on ‘lo sterrato’, take a second to appreciate the moment in the final kilometre and remember that the wheel tracks that you’re riding in now have been created by some of the greatest riders and moments in cycle sport. Although this climb may not have been raced as frequently as many of Italy’s icons, in some respect that only adds to the attraction. Ride it and you will soon see, words are an injustice. The experience is, and always will be, one of the most challenging and fulfilling you’ll ever be gifted to do.
Elevation gain: 1,694m
Average gradient: 9.2%
Max gradient: 14%
Ridden in July
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.