Climb categorisation explained

In 1933, the Tour de France introduced the mountain classification. Riders received points when they were first to reach the summit, but at that time there was only one category. More categories have been added over the years; from the toughest Hors Catégorie ('out of category') down to the 4th category. These categories have been taken over by the Giro, Vuelta and other cycling races. The big problem? The way in which climbs are categorised is very subjective.

The category of an ascent indicates how tough it is.
The category of an ascent indicates how tough it is.

Unfortunately, the mountain classification of the grand tours is not created to set a standard for recreational cyclists. For example, a category of a climb can change because of the location in the course, or simply because it suits the organizer better (€). Unfortunately, there is no exact science behind determining the mountain categories. In order to set a standard on climbfinder, we have tried to introduce a logical and consistent formula, which - in fact - matches very well with most categories in professional cycling races.

Categorisation based on difficulty points

Strava and other GPS services opt for a simple formula based on the average ascent and length of the climb. In our opinion this is too simplistic. Because the (sometimes undulating) course of the climb has a huge influence on how much effort it costs to reach the top of the climb. That is why we spent a lot of time in accurately calculating the difficulty level of a climb. In fact, we are so convinced of the accuracy of "difficulty points" that we also use them to calculate the mountain categories.

The only subjective thing about our standard are the transitions between the categories. Here, however, we did an extensive research. We analyzed hundreds of climbs and compared them with the classifications they got in the grand tours. By doing so, we came to the scale below.

From Hors Catégorie down to the 4th category

  • Hors Catégorie (HC). These are the toughest climbs to be found. Ascents on climbfinder only get the famous "HC" classification if the climb scores more than 900 difficulty points. The Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio are proud owners of the "Hors Catégorie" classification. The Hors Catégorie was introduced in the Tour de France as recent as 1979. It's a category that appeals to many cyclists' imaginations.
  • 1st category. Climbs of the first category are certainly not to be underestimated. For example, nothing less than the famous Col d'Izoard is a category 1 climb, to the great disappointment of some cycling tourists. Climbs with 600+ difficulty points will be in this category.
  • 2nd category. The somewhat shorter climbs often do not exceed a "Category 2" label. The Ballon d’Alsace is a good example of the type of climbs you can expect to find in this category. Climbs must have a minimum of 300 difficulty points to fit in this category.
  • 3rd category. In the Alps these are the easy options, but in the lower mountain ranges or highlands these can be the highlights of the day. A climb needs at least 150 difficulty points to fit in this category.
  • 4th category. With 75 difficulty points a climb falls into the fourth category. Don't think you can just sprint up these hills, it's still going to hurt.


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