Hors Catégorie – Beyond Categorization

A French term used in cycle races to designate a climb that is “beyond categorization”, or an incredibly difficult climb. Most climbs in cycling are designated from Category 1 (hardest) to Category 4 (easiest), based on steepness, length, and how far into the stage they are encountered. A climb that is harder than Category 1 is designated as “outside categories” or Hors Catégorie.

Categorization is subjective but factors include:

  • the average grade
  • the steepest grade
  • the increase in altitude from the bottom to the top of the hill
  • the absolute altitude of the summit
  • the condition of the road
  • where in the stage the climb falls.

A hill at the end of the stage, when riders are tired, might be placed in a higher (smaller number) category than the same hill would receive if it were the first climb in the stage.

Origins of Hors Catégorie (HC) ratings are varied. Tour de France ratings are rumored to have been made by driving an old Citroen up the hill. A hill that the car can climb in third gear is a category 3; in second gear, a category 2; and so on. The hill that is so steep that the car can’t even climb it is considered to be an HC.