The latest video from Mike Cotty and The Col Collective features a climb in the Italian Alps that has never featured in the Giro d’Italia but which has hosts of admirers. What’s more, it’s one you will almost certainly have seen on screen at the climax of one of the most iconic British films of all time – The Italian Job.
One of the 10 highest paved roads in Europe and topping out at 2,612 metres, the final 15 kilometres of the Colle del Nivolet in Piedmont boasts some of the most spectacular scenery you will find cycling anywhere in Europe.
Don’t just take our word for it. Author and journalist Daniel Friebe, in his book Mountain High, calls it as “close as you’ll get to heaven on earth.” Cycling blogger Inner Ring describes it as “a road without celebrity status but which is one of Europe’s best, almost a road you must ride.”
So why has it never featured in the Giro? Well, there are two main reasons. First, its location in a national park means there are serious environmental considerations about having a Grand Tour stage tackle the ascent.
Secondly, and not unrelated, is the sheer logistical challenge of getting everything needed to host a stage finish up there and find a place for it.
Nevertheless, it’s a climb that invites you to tackle it – and moreover, if riding on a Sunday, it’s car-free once you pass the dam for the reservoir that supplies the city of Turin far below where Charlie Croker and his gang carried out their ill-fated gold heist.
There’s just one thing nagging at our minds, though. Given that the road stops shortly after the summit, where were the boys of the Self Preservation Society headed? We’ll chalk that one down to cinematic licence.
Here’s what Cotty says about the climb:
Deep in the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park the Colle del Nivolet is one of Italy's best kept secrets. At 2,612 metres elevation it's one of the highest roads in Europe and yet it's still virtually unknown which, to be honest, isn't a bad thing … as long as you're amongst the few that do know about it!
The original road took a decade to build from 1953-63 and now acts to serve the two hydroelectric dams that you pass. From Locana it feels like much more of a journey than simply a climb, and at 40 kilometres in length it's not hard to imagine why.
The Orco valley is long and saps strength so focus on staying fuelled and well hydrated. With 14 kilometres covered your warm up is over as you hit 4 hairpins with pitches up to 15%. Shortly after it's time to test your fear of the dark. Do you opt for a 3.5 kilometre tunnel or head for the old service road? Today I took the service road option. Granted, it's in terrible condition and there are sections where some cyclocross skills would certainly be handy but in my opinion it beats the tunnel, and you can save that for the way back down when you're in and out of it much quicker.
At Ceresole Reale it's your last good chance to fill your bottles. If you need to take a breather do so here while enjoying the views of Lake Ceresole, there's still 18 kilometres to go and this is where the true adventure begins.
Initially the road is wooded, offering a moment of respite from the summer sun but soon, as the road meanders back and forth, you can sense a real feeling of the great outdoors consuming your senses. Waterfalls, glaciers, mountain peaks and wildlife roaming free, these are the ingredients of legend, fairytale, or perhaps both?
On the upper slopes the 10% gradient easily feels double that as the wind tries harder and harder to hold you back. Persevere and you're gifted with one of the most spectacular roads imaginable flanked with high alpine lakes and over 30 hairpin bends. The fact that this road has never been used by the Giro d'Italia, nor does it have worldwide fame, and it effectively leads to nowhere is all the better. It allows you to forget about everything else that's going on in your world and concentrate on the most important thing in that present moment, the pure and simple act of riding your bike.
That, for me, is what makes the Nivolet so special.
Elevation gain: 1,959m
Average gradient: 4.9%
Max gradient: 15%
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.