Tour de France: Let's Rank the Climbs


There are Twenty-five "Category 2", "Category 1" and "Hors Categorie" climbs in the 2010 Tour de France.

Which is the hardest?  Which is the most over-rated?  Which is the most overlooked?    Let’s take an analytical approach to ranking the climbs.  And then add a little bit of subjectivity to the debate. 


There are several formulas out there that try and quantitatively rank mountain climbs.  I am going to use the climbbybike difficulty index  (  The formula results in an arbitrary difficulty number that can then be used to contrast and compare with other climbs.

Why this formula?  Why not?  And because generally the results feel right to me, (oh, and it’s not TOO complicated). 

Click here for a detailed explanation of their formula and a discussion of a couple of others.  In the comments feel free to debate the strengths or weaknesses of the various approaches.   Note, all the data in my charts will be metric.  For the Americans,  remember that metres are just long yards, and kilometres are really short miles.  

(H/D*100)*4 + H²/D + D/1000 + (T-1000)/100

    H = ascent in metres;
    D = length of climb in meters;
    T =  top of mountain in meters

The last part of the formula only applies to mountains above 1000 metrs and adds a fudge factor to approximate the impact of altitude.

My numerical difficult rankings may differ slightly from climbbybike as I am using the climb data provided by the official Tour de France web site .  But the differences are nominal and this allows me to consistently rate the minor or lessor known cotes/cols.

Each stage summary at includes a list of classified climbs with it’s distance and average grade (ascent = % grade * distance). 

With the big exception of Col d’Aubisque, the difficulty scores for the 25 climbs line up with their official difficulty classification.

Note, for perspective I have added Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, and even Koppenberg to the chart as many will have a better feel for their difficulties than for some of the 2010 climbs.

Below let's discuss the top 10 climbs.  Note, I understand that by looking at climbs individually and not stage by stage that things are a little out of context.  But I am just trying to provide a starting point for discussion.



1.  Col du Tourmalet - West Side (HC)

No surprise that Tourmalet is the hardest climb.  But the west side?  For me it's definitely the most beautiful side (the monstrosity of La Mongie is on the east side).  As you can see, it's a long, steady climb.  And with 1395 metres of ascent, it's the second biggest climb of the Tour. 

My thoughts:  It's worth remembering that before the "official" start of this climb it will be uphill for several kilometres unlike the east side (as that route will come from Col d'Aspin). And this will be the mountain top finish stage.  On paper, this is the best stage and best climb of the Tour.


2.  Col de la Madeleine (HC)

This is a monster.  With 1581 metres of ascent it's by far the biggest climb bottom-to-top of the Tour.  As the profile shows, the grade is constantly changing.  This is a hard climb to get a rhythm on.  One for the true climbers.

My Thoughts:  This one hurts, and will be at the end of a long day.  The descent has 40+ hairpins.  Whoever wants this stage better know how to climb AND descend.  I am sure we'll debate over the next couple of weeks whether the finish is too far from the summit.  But I think this stage and climb will sort out the GC a little.



3.  Port de Pailhères (HC)

This climb first appeared in the centenary Tour de France of 2003.  I believe this will be it's 4th time in the Tour.  It's the shortest climb in the top 5 but obviously consistently steep. 

My Thoughts: I have never cycled this climb, but it sure sounds fun.  It comes near the end of a stage with a mountain top finish at AX-3-domaines (13th most difficult) so it's a climb not to be missed.


4.  Col du Tourmalet - East side (HC)

Note, the 2010 version of the east side joins the profile below about 6 kilometres in as it comes from Col d'Aspin. 

My Thoughts:  With my eyes closed, I would have said this is the harder side of Tourmalet.  It certainly has the steepest parts - especially leading up to La Mongie.  But this climb comes early in the stage and may well be similar to the 2009 Tourmalet stage - uneventful.


5.  Col de la Colombière (Cat 1)

Fifth hardest? And only category 1?   A surprise to most I expect. This is the most famous climb close to me - and if you ask my brave wife what is her least favorite climb (and she's done Ventoux, Alpe, Galibier, etc) she'd say Colombière.  In part because the last brutal kilometres seem to be perpetually into a head wind.

My Thoughts:  It's too early in the stage to be decisive, but when the riders start climbing Madeleine, their legs will remember Colombière.




This is getting long, so just quick comments on the next 5 - although I am happy to discuss in more detail if anyone is interested.

6.  Port de Bales (HC)

A fun addition.  This climb was only paved in 2006 - to appear in the 2007 Tour.


7.  Col du Soulor (Cat 1)

If you have ever cycled the Pyrénées you have probably ridden Soulor (leading to or coming from Col d'Aubisque).  And in fact stage 16 will include Soulor as part of the Col d'Aubisque climb.

But I suspect you won't have ridden this north side that will appear in stage 17.  A very fun addition on a small, lessor known route. 




8.  Col de la Ramaz (Cat 1)

Only other Tour appearance was in 2003 when Virenque won the stage and briefly held the yellow Jersey.  I have a video preview of this climb that you'll be asked to endure later on.

My thoughts:  This year they opened a tunnel to replace the falling cliff road.  Steepest part of climb is in the tunnel.  Ouch.



9.  Col de Peyresourde (Cat 1)

Another very historic Pyrénées climb, first appearing in 2010.  Rarely decisive, it is usually used to link other mountains in a big stage, exactly like this year.   I think the Tour data excludes the first 3 kms of the profile below.



10.  Col d'Aubisque (HC)

Rated Hors Categorie but only 10th on our difficulty list?  In part, I guess, the higher difficulty is due to it appearing late in stage 16.  But I suspect the other reason is just because it is so famous. As the profile shows, although 29 kilometres long, it includes long, easy stretches and even some downhill.

My thoughts:  Yes, it's a little less hard than generally believed, but it's a beautiful climb.  Even the flat bits like the cliff road through Cirque du Litor are just stunning.  I plan on thoroughly enjoying watching this climb.



So? Thoughts?  Stupid rating system?  What's climb are you looking forward to? Any surprises?


A few more profiles:

Col des Aravis:

Beautiful Col, but they sell Cow pelts there!!!!!!



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