This is as good a high Alps gravel road route as I know. Spectacular. But warning, this is challenging. Starting at 500 metres altitude, the route goes to almost 2800 metres with a descent in the middle. And much of this is on slippery, poor quality, gravel roads. Hard work. But rewarding.
I’ll split this post into three parts for clarity:
- Colle delle Finestre
- Strada dell’Assietta
- La Strada Militare Gran Serin/Colle delle Finestre
Colle delle Finestre
This is one of the legendary cycling climbs in Italy appearing in the 2005, 2011, and 2015 Giro d’Italia. It’s a beast of a climb, one of the toughest in the Alps. But the grade is steady. It’s almost always either side of 9%. No respites, but few crazy steep ramps either.
It’s a climb of two parts: First, after a couple of steep kilometres from Susa, the S172 military road begins – 17 kms to the summit. The bottom half is a narrow, but adequately paved surface that hairpins up through shaded woods. At one point there are roughly 30 hairpins in 3 kms. Wow. Just before the paved road ends there is a cliff stretch with views of the valley below. Here, you can either marvel at the views or curse the fact that you are only half way up.
The top half, the final 8 kilometres, are gravel. The forest gradually thins out. And while there are fewer hairpins, they are far more dramatic. The top few kilometres are fantastic.
At the col are two Danilo Di Luca steles. The convicted doper was first over Finestre in the 2005 Giro. Just above is also a little statue garden of “9 coli più epici” (9 most epic cols) of cycling, in addition to Finestre (Mortirolo, Stelvio, Fauniera, Gavia, Tourmalet, Galibier, Izoard, Ventoux, and Alpe d’Huez). Higher, dominating the Col is a 19th century Fort. I’d get a better view from above much later.
La Strada dell’Assietta is one of the most spectacular high altitude roads in the world. More than 30 kms long, almost entirely well above 2000 metres. This old military road is unpaved, gravel, and at times quite rough. Along its length are all sorts of forts, barracks, etc. Most built in the late 1800s. The official web site is here.
In 1747, the Battle of Assietta was fought at altitude here during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Piedmontese were forced to spread their forces protecting 13 passes, but successively repelled the French invaders inflicting over 5000 casualties (3700 killed including 7 French generals). This great Savoy-Piedmontese victory is still celebrated every July 19th with costumed ceremonies at the colle.
From Colle delle Finestre, I descended the paved main road for a few kilometres. Then at 1900 metres or so, near Pian dell’Alpe, I turned into the entrance – and low point – of the Strada dell’Assietta. I would only ride 13 kilometres of Assietta today – see here for a ride the entire length.
At the summit of Finestre is a fountain. And just before the start of Assietta is a farm/restaurant. These are the ONLY two places to get water/food on this route.
This road is rougher than the unpaved stretch of Finestre. Although always lightly trafficked, in summer, on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s it is bike-only – very nice. This avoids the occasional motorcycle swarm, or convoy of tour-company Range-Rovers. At one point, on a cliff stretch, I met a bull grazing on its own. Yikes. Fortunately, he seemed uninterested in me, and I slowly passed. The road traverses for a while then turns up with some superb hairpins, before reaching Colle dell’Assietta at 2472 metres.
La Strada Militare Gran Serin – Colle Finestre
Exactly at Colle dell’Assietta is a turn-off to the Strada Militare Gran Serin – Colle Finestre. This is always closed to motorised traffic. In fact, I would call it a very old road that is times more like a wide hiking trail. Most cyclists ignore it. What a mistake, it’s jaw-dropping. Roughly 14 kilometres long, to begin it climbs, twists, descends, passing Fort Serin and various other military ruins. It then climbs to nearly 2800 metres before a superb descent back down to Colle delle Finestre (2178m).
It’s even rougher than Assietta. I walked a couple of stretches that weren’t even that steep as I kept slipping – but in general it’s entirely ride-able. The road is endlessly interesting (and deserted).
The road ends at il Fort del Colle delle Finestre, overlooking Colle delle Finestre.
From here, I simply descended Colle delle Finestre back to Susa.
This route is truly special. You know it’s a great route when a legendary climb Like Colle delle Finestre might be the least interesting part of the ride. Highly recommended.
Locked in for August 23rd. 🙂
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I’m just after a bit of advice/local knowledge regarding the best way to do Strada del Assietta from Sestriere? I’m going to park there and hopefully meet up with another guy from Australia who will be ‘Everesting’ Colle del Finestre on the 23rd of August. I will be driving from Briancon and parking at Sestriere and starting from there. I would just love to ride the Assietta, as I’ve seen so much written about it by both you and Transcon from last year, as their second checkpoint.
If you have any tips or hints, they would be much appreciated.
I am meeting up with him as part of his ‘World Everesting project’, 5 Everests, 5 countries, in 15 days. Starting with Fuji in Japan, Rocacorba, Finestre, St Gotthard Pass, then Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Yeah, I know, what a nutbag!!
All I wanna do is do a lap or two with him as support on Finestre.
Anyway, any or all advice is much appreciated.
Hi Phil, Give me a couple of days, as I am in the middle of an article that will hopefully – with maps – explain Assietta and Finestre in lots of details as there are several options.
How big a ride are you willing/wanting to do? As Assietta from Sestriere leads you to the TOP of Finestre. I think two likely options. 1) From Sestriere, ride down low in the valley to Cesana then all the way to Susa (via Salbertrand). Susa is the start of Finestre. Climb Finestre then take the entire Strada dell’Assietta back to Sestriere. +30 kms and great. The drawback to this idea is down low in the valley is not great. Do-able without problems, but paved roads with some fast traffic. 2) The harder, but more fun way would be join the start of Assietta at Sestriere itself (already 2000m high), follow the entire Assietta to Colle delle Finestre. Descend Finestre. Climb Finestre and take Assietta road back again.
Yes, I had your second option in mind and had mapped it out before we left home. I hope you can open this link and if so give me your thoughts about the direction I’m taking.
Even if I meet up with Dave to do Finestre once (that’ll be enough!!), it’s a bonus if he’s towards the bottom of the climb when I see him.
If you can’t open the link, I’ve mapped it from Sestriere, along Assietta, down Gran Militaire, down Finestre, back up, then back along Assietta to Sestriere. About 107km with 4000+mts gain. Does that sound right?
I know its a tough day on gravel with that climbing, but have done plenty of similar rides before.
Like I said, any advice is much appreciated. And hey, if you are in the Allemont, Briancon, Chamonix area between the 10th and 29th August, would love to catch up and do a ride of some sort. It’s a long shot, but would be great.
Yes, that route looks terrific. Note, if you look very closely, in a few places you take tiny shortcuts, probably on hiking trails. (your “there vs back” is slightly different, and on the high military road above Colle delle Finestre it cuts a hairpin short. But when you are on the roads you won’t get lost. All the key spots look correct, just expect 1 or 2 brief “lost course” messages on the GPS.
That route is truly superb. And extra impressive if you do the high Gran Serin / Finestre road to make a loop as you have planned. As good as it gets! My only suggestion is to consider wide tires. I have done most of this on mountain bike and on a hybrid with 35c and no suspension. The mountain bike was FAR more fun (and at times much faster) as it can get bumpy and the descents are far better on a mountain bike. On the other hand, this makes it all tougher. And Finestre is not short or easy. So it’s a difficult compromise.
Either way, that is a great route, you will love it. Best of luck,
Sounds great. Thanks for that. I have 33 and 35mm tyres on a Specialized Diverge gravel bike. A mate and I did the Pic du Midi climb above Tourmalet the other day, and although an interesting descent, the bike handled it well. Well, we did all bar the last unrideable steep but anyway.
Thanks again and I look forward to many more blogposts.
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How was it descending the dirt on the Finestre? I rode up it last year and did the Assietta all the way down to Sestriere and beyond but am coming back this year and may “shortcut” to Susa via the Finestre but only if the descent isn’t a deathtrap.
It’s a tough question as I haven’t been there in a while and things could change. The top half of descent is unpaved, bottom half paved. Reasonable quality but if you descend at speed on thing tires it’s not much fun.