Gibraltar Road: Landmark Climb Of WorldTour and Recreational Cyclist Alike

The 6.5 mile climb up Gibraltar Road is considered one of the top five scenic climbs in the U.S. and will host a mountain-top finish for Stage 3 of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California Men’s Race.

The Santa Barbara 100 Climb

Arguably the most difficult charity ride Ventura/Santa Barbara area, the Santa Barbara 100 is a fixture on the Southern California recreation events calendar and a keystone ride of the fall season for some local cyclists. The ride has over 9,000 feet of climbing with grades averaging 8-10 percent. It features five Category 5 climbs, four Category 4 climbs, one Category 3 climb, and one Hors Category climb: Gibraltar Road.

The 6.5 mile climb up Gibraltar Road is considered one of the top five scenic climbs in the U.S. and will host a mountain-top finish for Stage 3 of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California Men’s Race

We started lining up at 7:00 am, just before dawn. As the sky brightened in the east, we began cruising Santa Barbara’s Cabrillo Boulevard along the beach.

The first climb was Gorbernador Canyon Road, a Category 5 climb with a fun descent. It was a nice warmup for the climbs coming up. The Foothill Road portion has a 4-8 percent grade with a very short descent, then Toro Canyon climbs 8-10 percent for about half a mile. This is the first truly challenging climb of the day. But from the top, it’s only another half mile to Ladera Lane.

Gibraltar Road is a 6.5 mile climb up the 10 mile and out along the ridge of Camino Cielo. Camino Cielo is unique in that from one side of the road you can see Carpinteria, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Goleta. If you turn 180 degrees, you can see the Channel Islands 15 miles out to sea. The views along many of the routes are very nice, some of the most picturesque being Butterfly Beach, which you can view from the bike path on the bluff above the Pacific.

I continued up La Cumbre Peak – the highest point of the ride. From there the route was mostly downhill with two more Category 5 hills on Camino Cielo. I was thrilled when I saw Painted Cave Road, which is the road off the mountain ride and the end of climbing. The Painted Cave and San Marcos Road descent is narrow, with steep and tight switchbacks. The rest of the ride is on the way to La Mesa is basically flat.

Santa Barbara Roads with views of Santa Ynez Mountains
Santa Barbara Roads with views of Santa Ynez Mountains

Preparation: 

I used a Stages Power Meter to help me manage the ride. I knew I could crank out 200-250 watts without burning any matches, but I would keep an eye on the bike computer during climbs. For the small sections where the grade pops over 10 percent, I could push it over 300 watts, but I knew it couldn’t be for long. More importantly I practiced going up Gibraltar four out of the five weekends leading up to the ride.

The Ride: 

The Santa Barbara 100 is in mid October. Starting at Ledbetter Beach, just north of Stern’s Wharf, the route loops around Santa Barbara, then goes through Carpinteria. Hwy 150 takes you to Gobenador Canyon Road, then you head down Hwy 192 along the backside of Carpinteria and back to Montecito via Toro Canyon Road and Ladera Lane. From Montecito you tackle Gibraltar Road, climbing to the highest point of the ride at La Cumbre Peak, 3,995 feet above Santa Barbara. The route continues along Camino Cielo to Painted Cave and San Marcos Road, and down to Hwy 192. The climb down becomes an easy ride out to Goleta on bike paths leading to Hope Ranch and finally backs to Leadbetter Beach.

For more writings by Charles Lindsey, visit his collection of posts at Gold Coast Cycling

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