Colle Fauniera


  99km

  2070m

  Difficult

Start/Finish:  CUNEO

Country:  ITALY

Route:  Loop 

CLIMB:  COLLE FAUNIERA (2481M)



A climb from another era

What was Carmine Castellano, then director of the Giro d'Italia, thinking when he took the peloton up - and down - the Colle Fauniera twice in 1999 and 2003? This is the question I've been asking myself ever since I climbed this little-known giant in Piedmont with my friend Luca.

Certainly, the Giro's bosses have a reputation for making bold route choices and finding improbable climbs such as the Mortirolo or the Zoncolan. But the Fauniera is something else again and this loop shows why.

A good starting point to climb the Fauniera is Cuneo, the capital of the province of the same name. This city of 55'000 inhabitants halfway between Nice and Turin is ideally located at the foot of the Cottian Alps to the west and the Maritime Alps to the south; it is also a good base to reach other major passes such as the Agnello, the Lombarda and the Colle Sampeyre.

You quickly leave the city by the provincial strada to get closer to the mountains. Morning traffic can be dense, the vans go fast but the drivers respect the cyclists - this is Italy. After 12 kilometers,  change of atmosphere: you turn left in Caraglio to find yourself on an almost deserted road. You enter the Val Grana, which you will not leave any more until the summit.

At the beginning, the slope is imperceptible. Then it becomes slightly steeper but you progress at a good pace up to the village of Pradleves (km 25) which marks the entrance of a deep gorge. There, a sign provides an appropriate warning: there are 21.9 km to the summit and the average slope is 7.6%. Serious business begins... especially since the notion of average slope doesn't mean much: from Campomolino to Chiotti Sant'Anna, the average gradient is just over 10% with peaks of 14.

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The average slopes does not tell the whole story

A short drop allows you to refuel, then the road narrows and the slope becomes even steeper: you approach the San Magno sanctuary, in an increasingly alpine landscape. In 1999, this is where Marco Pantani placed a devastating attack to break away from the group of Giro favorites with Ivan Gotti during the 14th stage that led the riders from Bra to Borgo San Dalmazzo. Where exactly? We don't know: the Fauniera was in fog and the helicopters hadn't been able to take off, depriving the viewers of TV images.

After the sanctuary, 9 km from the summit, the road surface becomes really bad. You have to slalom between the potholes that have been dug since the Giro came here. You imagine Il Pirata dancing on the pedals while you keep your eyes fixed on the road.

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Last chance to fill your bottles

A few hundred meters higher, a fountain allows you to quench your thirst and you start to guess the pass on the left, among the rocks. Two kilometers from the summit, the slope softens somewhat and the Rifugio Fauniera provides a last opportunity to refuel. You pass near the Colle d'Esischie (2'370m), another access to the Fauniera used during the Giro 2003, before reaching the pass at 2'481m. You have covered 47 km from Cuneo. No refuge or café at the summit: just a small parking lot and a monument in memory of Marco Pantani, erected a few months after his death in 2004.

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Near the summit

The Colle Fauniera is a crazy climb because of its length and its difference in altitude which are worthy of the Stelvio. But what can be said about the descent? First of all, that it crosses magnificent landscapes. As you cruise down, you can finally look up and admire the peaks that line up as far as the eye can see in all directions. However, you must be careful: the road remains narrow and winding. It is then that you remember that the Giro riders raced here. And that Paolo Savoldelli, the crazy downhiller, earned his nickname of Il Falcone, the Falcon. Crossing the top of the pass a minute behind Pantani and Gotti, he caught his preys and then overtook them in San Giacomo, 14 kilometers down the road. The race was then out of the fog and the archive images found on internet show the feat of the Italian angel-faced rider, winner of the stage a little further on in Borgo San Dalmazzo.

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The descent towards Demonte

The 24-kilometer long descent of Colle Fauniera ends in Demonte in Val Stura. If you go up the valley, you head towards France via the Colle de la Lombarda or the Colle della Maddalena. If you go down, you head back to Cuneo. You can stay on the main road, but the smart riders will choose to turn right at the exit of the town to join the SP337 which winds in the shade until after Gaiola. You have then reached the plain and Cuneo is only a few kilometers away on a slight downhill slope. A gentle epilogue for a punchy ride: 99 kilometers and 2070 meters of climbing.

The Giro returned to the slopes of the Fauniera in 2003, this time turning just before the summit to descend via the Col d'Esischie. The climb was placed too early to play a decisive role in the stage marked by Marco Pantani's crash on the descent of the nearby Colle di Sampeyre. Will the professional peloton ever return to these roads? The Fauniera is regularly mentioned in the rumours that precede the official presentation of the Giro route, but I doubt it in the context of today's cycling: riders and followers would take offence at the precarious safety conditions on the descent.

What's more, the state of the road surface, badly damaged by frost, avalanches and rain, gets worse every year to the point where we wonder how long it will remain passable. Once the responsibility of the Italian army, which used it for exercises until 2014, the road is now out of use for much of the year, and the municipalities of Castelmagno and Demonte do not have the resources to maintain it.

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Will we ever see the Giro again here?

In fact, it's the Granfondo Fausto Coppi, a prestigious sportive that uses the region's mountain passes, that is funding the urgent repairs: each year, the first 200 race numbers are sold for 120 euros to go into a special fund. For the 2024 season, it looks like major work is finally being undertaken, if a post of the Fausto Coppi on Instagram is to be believed.

So go and climb Colle Fauniera while you still can, you won't regret it... except perhaps at the steepest part of the ascent, somewhere around the San Magno sanctuary. On this road from another age, you feel a solitude that you no longer find on the great Alpine passes, victims of tourism that is crumbling under its own weight. On a fine day in July, you'll see just a handful of cars, a few adventurous motorcyclists and cyclists from all over. And not a single camper van.

Alain

THE ROUTE

ABOUT THE CLIMB

Stats and design by myCols



Average grade    7.8 %
Length                    21.3 km
Altitude start      809 m
Altitude top         2456 m
Ascent                   1647 m
Maximum             11 %

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TIPS

La Fausto Coppi
The Fauniera is the emblematic pass of La Fausto Coppi, a cyclosportive that attracts more than 2,500 participants every year: www.faustocoppi.net

When to climb Colle Fauniera
The route is generally open from early June to late October, when there is no snowfall. Unlike many of the more popular Alpine passes, traffic is light throughout the season.

Cafés and restaurants
The Rifugio Fauniera is 2 km from the summit. There are restaurants and bars on both sides of the pass at Pradleves and Demonte.

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The more you climb, the narrower the road gets

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Approaching the Colle d'Esischie

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One of the highest paved passes in the Alps

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At the top: a monuments dedicated to Marco Pantani


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