Stage 3: Colle delle Finestre

I think I’ve pushed the podcast approach far enough and it’s taking me twice as long anyway!

John, Andy and I set off to do the full ride at 6am this morning, with Ben and Ying deciding they would drive 60km to Susa to do the Finestre climb, redescend and then come home.

Early start

It was our toughest day today, 140km and about 3,700 metres of climbing (4 climbs). The first climb took us to Montgenèvre, just before the Italian border. The three of us rode the day together and since we all crossed the line at the same time, on the handicap system this meant that this was a first win for Andy, with John and I sharing second place. Had there been points for a sprint finish, then Andy would have won by a tyre’s width over John who left his surge slightly too late, though he disputes this!

We then had a long descent into Susa where it was time for second breakfast. Well it was still only 8:30!

The apricot croissant was the best!

Finestre is a HC climb and the one on which Chris Froome basically won the Giro, so it was great to experience that. John and Andy pulled away from me on the paved section through the forest (10km) but I saw them stopping for water just before the start of the 8km gravel section. I rode past without wanting to stop but they soon caught and passed me.

Forest section
Gravel section. Quite hard to capture how tricky this was in places

The total ascent for the climb is an astonishing 1,683 metres (average of 9%). Going through the forest you don’t really get to appreciate this until quite late on and it is stunning to be able to look so far down into the valley.

That’s more than 1km down!

On the way up we passed Ben and Ying coming down to Susa where they had left the car. I didn’t envy them having to descend on that gravel – the road surface was unpaved, hard packed earth with plenty of loose gravel so you had to pick your lines carefully. Sometimes you could feel the wheels sticking a little on the damper sections, though we were blessed with a dry day, but there had been some overnight rain in the area.

John, Andy and I finished within 6 minutes of each other, but it was not until we got home and analysed data that we realised that on the handicap system Ying was the winner, with Andy beating me by 50 seconds and John in last place having set the fastest time! Seems unfair, but they were the rules of engagement.

Thankfully the descent off Finestre towards Sestriere is a proper road surface. The road is wide enough for a car to pass a cyclist but not much else, so it’s fairly tight. Again, this shows the skill of the professional riders, being able to control their bikes at such speed on narrowish roads which fall away steeply.

After a few km we were forced to stop and wait for 30 minutes because there was a so-called super-car rally taking place. A few Porsches, a Lamborghini, a Mercedes and a couple of random others that joined in. Don’t know what that was all about and it didn’t seem especially “super” either, so we just chilled out for a bit.

The rest of the descent and the subsequent climb up to Sestriere was uneventful and unremarkable. John took the win here, with Andy second and me third. Time gaps were small though once handicaps were taken into account, once again showing how this method of scoring was levelling the playing field.

Sestriere is a typical ski village, so nothing really going on or to recommend it other than the lasagne we had for lunch, though Andy had Stinco. Would you order it? Andy speaks Italian so knew straight away what it was. It’s basically ham hock and looked pretty good.

Not far to go now before we completed the loop back to the base of Montgenèvre. Another uneventful and unremarkable climb, apart from the tunnels. Andy took his second win here with me again in third – apart from one joint second place this was the story of my day as far as the KOM competition was concerned today. Overall though I only lost one point to John so the current standings are me leading by 36 on 123, John 97, Ying 84, Andy 77, Ben 42.

Back at the house there was a unanimous decision that no-one wanted to do the long climb up to Sestriere tomorrow via a different ascent to today’s. Instead there would be just three climbs and 80km to ride rather than 120km. I felt it only fair to point out that the maximum points on offer if John won all three climbs was 36, thereby meaning that I just needed to complete one climb in order to be the overall winner. Victory conceded. So the battle now turns to who else will be on the podium and in what order? Will Ying hold on for third with a trademark strong showing on the first climb of the day (before fading or going home) or will it be Andy who seems to be getting stronger and is certain to complete the whole ride? Surely neither can catch John and relegate him can they? Can they? Poor old Ben who put so much effort into organising this has been feeling a bit rubbish and seems destined for lantern rouge.

With all the race results settled and plans made for the next day, it was time for the hot tub before then heading into Briançon’s old town and a restaurant within the castle walls.

8am start tomorrow for John, Andy and I who will again do a group ride and sort out the maths later rather than start off with the time differences determined by our handicaps and time penalties for winning or placing on stages. Ying and Ben will probably start out a bit later, if they can be bothered!

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