Who knew there were so many bike races? Here in the U.S., we only get coverage of the Tour de France and, more recently, the Tour of California. In Olympic years (like this one) we might get coverage of the road race, if an American medals in it. But even then it’s usually just highlights.

But if you’re reading from anywhere outside the U.S., you’re probably already aware of the huge number of bike races that take place every year. And tomorrow, the 76th edition of the Tour de Suisse begins. The Tour de Suisse is a stage race. It starts with a prologue – a short individual time trial around the city of Lugano. From there, it basically heads clockwise around Switzerland over the next 8 days, with one quick dip down into Italy on the 2nd stage.

Map of the 2012 Tour de Suisse. The green dots are the start points for each stage, the red dots are the end points.

The Tour de Suisse is the 4th largest cycling race, behind the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta d’Espana. (At 9 days, it’s also considerably shorter than these other races, all of which are at least 3 weeks long). Aside from the amazing scenery and road conditions (this is no Paris-Roubais after all), the Tour de Suisse also features some amazing climbs (it figures – going through the Alps).

What is a Categorized Climb?

In bicycle racing, climbs are divided into categories, HC, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Category 4 climbs are the easiest. (Not all climbs are categorized either – there might be some big hill that would be a challenge for you or I to ride up, but professional riders would go over it like nothing). Depending on the length and steepness, climbs are assigned a number 1-4. Then, of course, there is the HC. HC stands for the French Hors Catégorie, or in English, beyond categorization. A climb designated HC is so long and so steep that it exceeds the difficulty of the existing categories.

Try climbing in the Swiss Alps with your SwissBike

The Tour de Suisse has five of these HC climbs – and the second stage (hey this Sunday!) has two of them. The second stage actually ends on an HC climb to Ziel, so anyone hoping to be in contention for the overall win better get their climbing legs going. There’s also an HC climb in the 8th stage, as well as another two in the final stage. Don’t let this fool you though – the other stages aren’t flat. They’ve all got their fair share of categorized climbs, even if they’re not HC.

Are you planning to watch (or attend) any of the Tour de Suisse? Thinking of making the trip with a SwissBike? What’s the longest/steepest climb you’ve ever ridden up?