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Old 10-14-2018, 12:27 PM
velotel velotel is offline
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Day 3, Colle delle Finestre

2178 meters high, 1709 meters of climbing (5606 ft), average grade 9.2%, last 8 K dirt. Sustained hard base to summit.

Early morning, out of the hotel, check the sky, watch a stream of kids with mothers, and a couple of dads, heading to the school up the street, thin swaths of clouds over the peaks, air cool, good for climbing. Back inside for breakfast, something the italians aren’t great at, except for coffee; there they rule. Cappuccinos, three of them, the first two because I always drink a couple of coffees in the morning, the third because the first two were so good. Lee and Mike settled into the new time zone, ready to go. Me feeling a little nervous. Finestre’s one damn big climb. One of the biggest but what totally sets it apart is the uninterrupted steepness from the valley floor to the col .

Bikes in the van and off to Susa 40 minutes away by a road I have no interest in riding. Narrow, traffic, italian drivers, better in the van. Pulled into the plaza behind the tourist office and parked at the far back side. Bikes out, burn bowls to the gods, roll off. Me feeling a little intimidated. This will be the biggest, hardest climb I’ve done this year.

Across the valley, spinning slowly, stretching out the time before the climb’s engaged. Not much of a warm-up. Swing onto the road to Finestre, two hundred meters later I’m in my climbing gear, a 30/32 where I’ll be for the next three hours or so.

The climb’s steepest pitches are at the bottom where the road goes through a tunnel under the railroad then up to the village of Meana di Susa. Wicked double-digit grades through there. Out of the village and into round curves past small orchards and gardens. From here up a one-laner, but a generous one-laner, not one of those emaciated one-laners that put passengers in major butt clinching mode. Monday morning, late September, we’ll only see a couple of cars all day.

Wrong. A group of cars with spare wheels and tires strapped to the roofs went charging by. Followed a bit later by another group. Then another. A few driven like they were rally cars. All with german license plates. Mike and Lee discovered later there were a hundred cars, all heading to Marrakech.

Meanwhile we were thoroughly rejoicing in the climb. May seem odd to say this considering the remarkable tenacity of the grades but it actually rides easier than the numbers indicate. Which I’d been worried about. Lee and Mike had come a long way to ride all this based solely on what I’d told them. And I’d told them Finestre was one of the most beautiful roads I’d ever ridden. Probably said something like 40 switchbacks up a mountainside thick with trees with most of the switchbacks supported by wonderfully hand-laid rock walls and the switchbacks themselves were all sweet round arcs. Plus the last 8 K are dirt curling up through a basin of meadows and rock cliffs to the col on an angular ridge. And we’d effectively have it all to ourselves.

Maybe I laid it on a bit thick. Only I hadn’t because that’s how Finestre was for me. But not everyone shares my enthusiasm for roads and climbs like this plus maybe the day I rode it - I’d only ridden it once, and that was three years ago when all summer I celebrated turning 70 by doing big rides - maybe that was a particularly good day and maybe I’d had a particularly good head so possibly my memories of Finestre were exaggerated.

I wanted Finestre to be something extraordinary for them, something that lived up to what some might consider my hyped-up view of the ride. And right off the bat instead of having the road to ourselves, there’s this parade of cars air-racing up the road on their way to Marrakech of all places! Actually the cars were weren’t nearly as intrusive as I at first felt. They also without exception slowed way down as soon as they saw us. We’re talking some mellow people, even the ones enjoying repaving the switchbacks with fresh rubber. I half expected to see one of the cars slow, the window slide down, and an arm reach out to pass a joint to us as they rolled by.

Lee and Mike were loving the climb, big grins, their eyes lit with joy at the views and the riding. And they agreed, it does ride easier than the numbers. Sustained effort but nothing exceptional in that respect, a steady, mountain pace.

At one point I stopped to take some pics, have a pee while they kept going. And found myself alone in the silence of the woods, the soft mechanical purring of the chain over the cogs, the muted hum of the tires on the rough asphalt, from time to time the call of a bird or the rustling of something moving in the grasses and bushes, and me slipping into the zone, feeling the muscles stretch and contract, currents of air washing over my head, my eyes flashing through splashes of bright sun and dark shadows. Perfection.

Onto a long, wobbling traverse to the left where the forest was thinner, the mountainside steeper, the light brighter, glimpses of the valley floor way below and in the distance flashes of high summits along the franco-italian border. A switchback back to the right and another long traverse, back into the drainage the road had been working its way up for so long, back into the thick forest and damp air. Around a bend and there’s Mike and Lee standing talking to some people from the cars and just beyond them the dirt.

The big unknown, the dirt to the summit. The end of the season, soon the road would be closed to traffic, was the road going to be washboard hell with loose gravel. Which would be a bummer because these 8 K to the col are gorgeous. Different from below, the trees smaller, more scattered, more and more meadows and finally open prairies, the road climbing via long rippling traverses, a couple sections carved out of small cliffs, and lots of light.

The road was excellent. Some pockets of washboard and small aprons of loose gravel, easily avoided. Long sections in the trees where the dirt was firm and smooth like fresh asphalt. The worst were the switchbacks covered in loose gravel chewed out of the surface by cars scrabbling for traction.

Definitely steep, my memory of that was right on. Not desperately steep though maybe not so far off when the surface was loose with gravel. The kind of steep you feel good about having ridden well.

Lee and Mike were loving it. And riding well, especially for a couple of guys not used to doing climbs anywhere near this big. I think basically the place was pretty much blowing their minds, just like it had me the first time I was there.

Angled up and across a small cliff and into the final basin, for the first time the col visible above. Clouds were gathering above the ridge and flowing over the crest down into the basin, semi-hiding the final switchbacks behind veils of white.

The last K and a half the hardest part of the climb, 10% for 500 meters followed by 9% for another 500 meters then 9,5% to the col. No idea where those numbers come from but if they’re based on readouts from Gps computers I wouldn’t place any bets on them. But it’s not the grades that are so hard here. It’s the loose gravel and especially in the last 3 switchbacks where in places it was pretty deep from cars’ spinning tires.

We were climbing up through wisps of fog swirling across the slopes with the col barely visible. Gorgeous. I stopped just after the final switchback for more shots when I saw the spectral forms of Mike and Lee standing on the col. Would have been even cooler if there hadn’t been a car parked there.

The final section to the col is actually pretty easy. I even moved down a couple cogs just to arrive carrying some speed. Always good for the head to arrive on the col spinning a fine pace. The col was in bright sunshine and Mike and Lee were grinning like Cheshire cats.

Of all the high cols I’ve ridden, this is one of the most beautiful and satisfying. Wonderful views off both sides with two completely different aspects. The north side, the side we climbed, steeper, longer, heavily forested, the south side softer and covered by alpine prairies sweeping across the slopes. The south side road is paved right to the col. I’ve not ridden it. Looks like a fun descent. Probably a hard climb too, but shorter, around 600 vertical meters shorter. Some 250 vertical meters below the col on the south side is a broad, grassy plateau with a road across it, one end of the Strada dell’Assieta, a 35 K-long dirt road traversing the ridge of summits from Finestre to the Colle Sestriere. The plateau below is the only place where the dirt road is below 2000 meters.

Hang time, soaking up views and sun, filling water bottles from the small fountain on the col, shooting pics, mostly just looking, watching the light dance across the heights, maybe even some silent self-congratulations on not only having achieved the climb but having done it honorably. A fantastic road in every respect.

And now the plunge. I love descents, the faster and longer the better. This one I knew had all the right ingredients. With one potential fly in the soup, washboard. Nasty stuff, easy to avoid at climbing speeds, going down a different story. The washboard turned out to be a non-event. What was tricky were those damn switchbacks up high with all the loose gravel. Best line turned out to be cutting across the inside line. Once past those, glide city, nothing but sweet speed, the tires swallowing the roughness, carving true. Fat tires on road bikes, fantastic.

Finally stopped on a hairpin maybe halfway down the dirt to wait for Mike and Lee. I was pretty amazed to be honest at how fast the descent was considering it was the end of the season and not even close to being buff. Saw the two of them coming in looking relaxed. Obviously getting the hang of going down on dirt. Lee kept going while Mike and I took some more hits from our water bottles. Then I was off again.

Blew by Lee, probably twice his speed, feeling good, the bike smooth, solid, the road diving down the mountain. Into the forest, following lines of smooth, packed dirt, the bike flying. And all of a sudden that’s it, end of the dirt. Stopped and looked back to see if they were anywhere in sight. And I’ll be damned, here came Lee with Mike not far behind. Lee’s laughing, obviously loving the descent, this from a guy who unambiguously stated fast descents weren’t his thing. Told me when I blew by him he said no way was he going to let that old fart drop him like that! So, he let go of the brakes and discovered going fast on dirt wasn’t all that difficult.

Now more fun, the blacktop to the valley floor. I remembered this, major fun, the switchbacks round, smooth, rhythmical, a rolling dance with gravity leading the way, fingers gently caressing brake pads against the rims, pressing the front wheel down and diving into the turns, the bike leaning and carving clean lines, always holding a wee bit in hand for the unexpected car coming up, or as it turned out the unexpected cyclist coming up who was on the wrong side of the road. On and on and on.

An amazing descent. Day 3 a wrap, one to remember. For me Finestre is absolutely one of the best of the best. I think Lee and Mike agree. And tomorrow, Colle Blegier, of all the climbs I’ve ever done, the best.
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  #2  
Old 10-14-2018, 04:39 PM
Dino Suegiù Dino Suegiù is offline
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Beautiful, and what a great time of the year to be there too!
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Old 10-14-2018, 07:34 PM
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choke choke is offline
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You have to love a day in the mountains....sunny and clear at the bottom and riding through the clouds at the top. That certainly made for an extra-memorable ride.

Until I saw the later pics I was wondering if you'd replaced the Eriksen with the bike leaning against the sign in the first pic.
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Old 10-14-2018, 08:19 PM
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thwart thwart is offline
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Another great post and pics. Looks like a great end-of-the-season ride.
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Old 10-14-2018, 08:44 PM
Greenstein Greenstein is offline
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Hank disciple 2

Day 3 was as awesome as Hank describes. The views at the top were gorgeous . The fog, the cows, the stacked switchbacks, all insane. So glad to be reliving the most amazing 8 riding days of my life. The rides and the leader were legendary.

And to be clear - there was no keeping up with that descending crazy old fart.
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Old 10-14-2018, 09:08 PM
93KgBike 93KgBike is offline
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Five gold star post! Outstanding.
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Old Today, 12:36 AM
velotel velotel is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by choke View Post
You have to love a day in the mountains....sunny and clear at the bottom and riding through the clouds at the top. That certainly made for an extra-memorable ride.

Until I saw the later pics I was wondering if you'd replaced the Eriksen with the bike leaning against the sign in the first pic.
Thought of exchanging bikes but didn't want the owner to be disappointed

Quote:
Originally Posted by thwart View Post
Another great post and pics. Looks like a great end-of-the-season ride.
End-of-season, never say such words, no, never, end-of-season is when I can no longer ride!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greenstein View Post
Day 3 was as awesome as Hank describes. The views at the top were gorgeous . The fog, the cows, the stacked switchbacks, all insane. So glad to be reliving the most amazing 8 riding days of my life. The rides and the leader were legendary.

And to be clear - there was no keeping up with that descending crazy old fart.
Well hello Lee, didn't know you were on the forum. Thanks
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