What Do The Mountain Categories Mean in The Tour de France?

Alpha Ninja explains how mountains are categorized in The Tour de France

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by Mikel Ortega

Tim: Hey Alpha Ninja! What are all the categorizations of the mountains in the Tour de France? I keep seeing numbers thrown around, but I don’t quite understand what they mean.

Hey Tim: Welcome to the world’s most confusing question. OK, not that the basic classifications are confusing, but when the asphalt of the Tour de France heads skyward, things get a little air-headed.

How Are Tour de France Climbs Classified?

Each of the mountain categories get increasingly more difficult from 4 to HC. The peeps in charge determine classifications based on gradient, distance, and max elevation:

by Mikel Ortega
by Mikel Ortega

Category 4:

The easiest climbs. Like pretty much a descent for the peloton. Usually needs to be at least 4km and 4% gradient (or a steeper gradient and shorter distance)

Category 3:

Getting a little tougher here. The pros are probably having a tough time holding the high note to “Let It Go.” As a rule, around a 6% gradient for 4km or so. Sometimes shorter distances at around 8% gradient.

Category 2:

Longer climbs that are sometimes steeper. Heavier breathing for the peloton, but they’re probably still humming whatever tune keeps their minds off the men in devil costumes (or worse) running alongside them up the climbs. Generally more than 5km at 7% gradient or longer than 10km at around 5%.

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Category 1:

This one has Froome studying his handlebars pretty closely as he concentrates on the glory of things like how well yellow jerseys go with his eyes. Roughly 5-10km at 8% gradient or 15km+ at 6%.

HC or “Hors Category”:

This is a slick French term that means the climb is above categorization. These are the days that sprinters buy streamers for .  . . as decorations for their pity party. Long climbs. 15km, 20km, 30km. Steep, long, brutal. At least 15km above 8%.

Subjectivity of Tour de France Climbs

So all those numbers I listed above only kind of matter. Because there’s another word that also matters: subjectivity. For instance, if organizers feel like a climb is harder, it’ll get a higher rating. Or if a Cat 1 comes near the end of a stage, it turns into an HC. So I’m happy to have sort of answered your question as it kind of applies.


Well, that’s what I’ve got. Hope it helps, Tim. You can be cool like Tim too, just send me whatever questions you’ve got, and get answers.

About Alpha Ninja 16 Articles
Former pro racer, current roadie with an edge, Alpha Ninja once rode 100km without a saddle just to deliver a patch kit to a stranded cyclist. Alpha Ninja's identity is our secret--once they take off the cowl and cut out the Batman voice, we'll figure out who they are. Until then they're our resident vigilante in the fight against bike snobbery--kicking skinny tires and taking names.


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