As I was grinding through the last of my 45 minutes in zone 4 today I got the inspiration for this blog article – most likely because the pain felt so similar to the hors catégorie climbs I’ve managed to drag myself up over the past two and bit years.
Hors Catégorie simply means ‘non-categorized’ or maybe ‘out of category’ and refers to a real brute of a cycling climb. Back in the day (before WWII) the Tour de France had been content to attach only one category to all its climbs and award points for the first ten riders over each pass (from 10 down to 1). After the war, in what is considered the ‘modern era’ of cycle racing, the organizers branched out and added more categories, finally reaching 4 in 1962. Legend (and today’s Eurosport broadcast) tells us that the categories were related to the gearing a Citroen 2 CV needed to get up and over the climb in question. Therefore, you’d need to be in the 2nd gear (or lower) to get up a 2nd category climb, etc.
Looking at this car, it’s not surprising they found climbs it couldn’t get up and, so the legend continues, a 5th category was added – the hors catégorie in 1979 – where the riders could go, but the Cochonou saucisson guy couldn’t, sadly.
It gets more fun, too. A hors catégorie climb in one Tour de France may be a category 1 climb in another. Other than climbs being rated on steepness, length, width, maybe even road surface, they are rated in relation to all the other climbs in any given Tour. Basically the organizers start at the top and work their way down the suffer-meter, handing out category ratings to every climb of note in each year’s Tour..
For example, the Col de Joux-Plane, which Team Vicious Cycle will be rolling over in the Haute Route this August, has been used in the TdF 11 times, but only 6 have been hors catégorie.
That said, the real monsters of the Tour, like Ventoux, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, have always been hors catégorie since the system was brought in. If you’ve climbed them you’ll understand why.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in zone 4 tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if another blog article comes your way – assuming I can lift my arms to the keyboard of course.