Colle del Nivolet by Grant Williams
When the route for the 2019 Giro d’Italia was announced, the inclusion of the Colle del Nivolet prompted excitement, and triggered fond memories of riding the climb, with my partner Emma, during the summer. So I am really looking forward to seeing images of the peloton against such a spectactular backdrop.
I started to see the occasional social media post featuring the Colle del Nivolet around two or three years ago. The photos of the climb and location really caught my eye, and the Nivolet was added to the list of ìmust visitsî which steadily builds within the notes feature of my mobile phone!
The Nivolet is within the Graian Alps, Northern Italy, and sits within the Gran Paradiso National Park, north of Turin.
For the first week of our holiday, we chose to base ourselves in Valdieri, a small village, within the province of Cuneo, located approximately 90 kilometes from Turin. There were several climbs we were able to reach easily by riding from the apartment, and it meant that the Nivolet would be achievable, as it was within a driveable distance from Valdieri.
The weather was genenally warm and sunny, but a mountain storm would occasionally feature during late afternoon. Respecting how dangerous these can be, we wished for a calm, storm free day, to enable our ascent of the Nivolet; thankfully one arrived.
We chose to begin our climb in Locana. The journey by car went smoothly, and after finding a place to park, the bikes were soon assembled in readiness.
Cycling equipment by Q36.5 is always our choice. In an earlier article, I made reference to the comfort and performance provided by the Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe, and the Salopette Dottore L1 bib short. This was the combination I had also chosen for today, with Emma opting for the Lady version of the jersey, and a waisted short.
It is possible to overlook the smaller items of clothing that can make such a difference to our performance and enjoyment whilst cycling. Hands and feet form a large part of our connection with bike, and it is essential they remain comfortable. The Summer Glove L1 and Ultralight Socks are the items we chose to achieve this.
The all day comfort provided by gloves comes from their shape, optimum level of padding, and the high performance technical fabrics they are made from. The Ultralight Socks are thin, soft, breathable and supportive. They seem to virtually disappear when in use, and are perfect for warm conditions.
Back to the climb…..the ascent begins low in the valley, and a shallow gradient allows the legs to warm. Initially, the route passes small clusters of houses, and the valley is already edged by quite sizeable peaks. Height gain introduced more powerful forces, in the form of a clear fast flowing river, and a waterfall edging the road.
Steeper gradients indicated a change in the landscape, and signs dotted along the roadside made reference to the Gran Paradiso National Park. A feature of the Nivolet is a tunnel approximately 3 km long, with gradients of up to 15%. Prior to our visit, we had read about the tunnel, and cyclists opting to use an old service road to bypass all but a short section of it.
We opted for the service road, but at the time of our visit, the surface turned out to be predominantly gravel, with a only few short sections of macadam. Our passage was not particularly graceful, as it comprised a blend of riding, walking, and a few laughs along the way. In retrospect, the tunnel would have been preferable, especially when we consider how little traffic there was that day! I have read that the service road will be resurfaced for the 2019 Giro, which is great news for anybody planning to ride the Nivolet next year!
Having negotiated the service ìroadî, we were confident that what remained of the climb would be easy in comparison! As the kilometers passed, the surrounding scenery seemed to increase in scale, with the road brushing close to the river on numerous occasions. Frequently, I would admire the clarity of the water, and how it has shaped the rock it passes over; either rounding edges, creating pools, or eroding to form overhangs.
A large lake comes into view. Lago Ceresole is opal in colour and today, the wind creates waves, preventing a mirror-like surface. We spotted a windsurfer enjoying these perfect conditions.
Soon after, the road begins to narrow, and changes in gradient and direction become more frequent. The landscape is now even more spectacular, and beautiful. I love to take on the challenge of a climb, but to avoid missed opportunity, I occasionaly pull over to take a photo of the scenery, and of Emma cycling in amazing location.
Having researched the climb, I was aware of a dam located part way up. Whilst ascending, sections of the structure occasionally come into view, and eventually I reach a point where its whole outer surface could be seen against the mountain backdrop. It is a magnificant sight, the waters of Lago Serru being held by its incredible strength.
Emma joins me, and we admire the surrounds, take photos, and take on an energy gel to keep our legs turning. We continue on, descending to Lago Agnel, before the climbing starts again. The road is steep, with twists and turns featuring frequently thoughout the remainder of the ascent.
The views easily outweigh the challenge, and the landscape becomes even more breathtaking, to a point where I must stop, to savour the beauty. I ride past a viewing point, which is understandably busy, and soon after, the sign for the summit becomes visible.
Large partches of snow still cover the rugged landscape and we are both awe struck by the grandeur of the Colle del Nivolet. We are always buzzing after tackling a new climb, and especially one as stunning as this. So after photographs and a quick chat with a small group of riders, it is time to head back down.
We retraced our route, but via the tunnel this time. Emma was a little nervous of descending through it, so we rode close together, to share the benefit of each other’s lights. The warmth of the valley made our return feel easy, and we both agreed it was an enjoyable descent. We always look forward to eating a packed lunch in the sunshine, a simple pleasure, whilst recalling our favourite moments of the day. It was almost dark by the time we returned to our base in Valdieri, but we didn’t mind…..it had been a truly special day on the bikes!