Clark Natwick at the GP
25 September 2014
This past Sunday, the GP Clark Natwick returned to Northern California after last having run in 2005. BASP/Pilarcitos Cyclesports held this latest version at Candlestick Point as a step toward restoring the event to UCI status and bringing that level of racing back to the region.
Clark Natwick is a five-time National Champion in cyclocross and was on-hand for his namesake event. He once remarked he was proud to lend his name to such an effort. A strong relationship, as friend and bicycle racer, between himself and Tom Simpson, brought about the first so-named Clark Natwick Grand Prix.
By his own admission, Natwick puts his highest regard on his first National Championship, as a Junior in 1976. He went on to win four senior National Championships starting in 1981. Looking back at those results sheets, a few other notable names appear. Jim Gentes, who as a Junior bested Natwick’s first championship-attempt, Don Myrah, grabbing his four Elite Championships beginning two years after Natwick’s last, five-time National Champion Laurance Malone, and many others.
Those were heady days for the sport nationally and regionally. Long-running events such as BASP and CCCX were still a decade or more away. It was a burgeoning sport that now sees Americans, particularly Women, reaching the top-five in the World. Myrah, Gentes, Natwick, and many others set some of the groundwork for what has become a marvelous community; it is competitive yet inclusive of all capabilities, serious but with that edgy heckling humour, and open to all participants almost from diaper-to-diaper.
“I had no idea I was building anything. It’s amazing what its grown into,” said Natwick. “Internationally, if you went to Europe, you could see that it was highly popular. But domestically no.
“I’ve always been proud of this region and I’ve always thought that it has developed more than its fair share of national and international calibre athletes. The talent is so deep here; it just challenges everybody to raise that bar one more step for when they’re trying to see their potential.”
Both Myrah and Gentes remain active and highly performing racers at regional events with Myrah also earning a Master’s World Championship. Natwick, in a second career, runs a coaching business.
When asked about some of the changes between today’s cyclocross and the time he was winning championships, Natwick remarked “the difference is the population of athletes. That’s easily discernible because back when began we had one start for each race with thirty, forty athletes. That was back when I was a Junior athlete and then things just kept progressing.
“The technology is the obvious idea of the changes that we’re seeing now. One of the big similarities is actually tubular tires were used back then and still being the favored tire for now.”
About whether the community at large recognizes Natwick himself or the ground-laying work of the early cyclocross scene, the former champion remarks with humility “It’s not important. To me, seeing the community grow and being a part of it is what’s important.” And grow it has. This season, NorCal Nevada has nine series with three or more race-days, numerous pick-up races to bring-in new riders, and a massive opening to the year, with potential future UCI events, at the West Sac Cyclocross Grand Prix presented by Cedaron and the Clif Bar Grand Prix Clark Natwick.