Golden Gate Park homecoming for NorCal stars

Tales from the ('cross) peloton, November 14, 2004

Today's return to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for Round 3 of the Bay Area Super Prestige Series will be a homecoming for two Northern California cyclocross stars from the pioneer days when California ruled the 'cross roost. Tom Simpson reports.

For junior national champs Jim Gentes and Clark Natwick - arch rivals in the mid-70s - the same area near the park's polo fields that plays host to today's round of the Bay Area Super Prestige Series remains timeless from their races in 1975, characterised by cypress tree forests, sandy paths, and trails covered by pine needles. Although following separate paths since they earned their titles in 1975 and '76, both riders remain fixtures at both local and national cyclocross scenes.

For San Jose's Gentes, the first US junior cyclocross champion crowned at Berkeley's Tilden Park at the first-ever cyclocross championships in December 1975, his active racing career came to a conclusion a few years later when he finished at San Jose State's Industrial Engineering/Design program and began working for Blackburn Designs.

1985 was his career turning point when he gambled on a radical new helmet design and founded Giro Sports Design, the groundbreaking manufacturer of one of the world's most famous symbols of racing art and rider protection. Since the sale of his company to Bell Sports in the mid-90s, Gentes has been a frequent Masters competitor at both Northern California events as well as national championships - and he'll be lining up with the 45+ field today.

Clark Natwick, the '76 junior national champ from Pacifica, continued an amazing cyclocross career, both as a rider, event organizer, and coach. A four-time senior national champ, Natwick joined '70s US stars Laurence Malone and Joe Ryan in stars and stripes as they represented the US at the world championships from 1976-1981. Natwick later became the cyclocross coach for the US and created the SuperCup Series for USA Cycling before turning over that property to Kiron Group's Lyle Fulkerson in 1998. Today, he coaches athletes in the Bay Area for Endurance Mill Valley.

Pilarcitos Cyclesports, event organizers, considered a "Classics" race to signify the return of racing to Golden Gate Park - a class limited to '70s era-style equipment - toe clips, steel frames, wool jerseys, etc. in a "Turn back the Clock" memory - and momentarily thinking of the traditional '70s 'cross startline with riders lining up off the bike for the whistle. But because fields have grown so large with the traffic jams that affect start grids today, that idea was quickly jettisoned.

Nearly 300 competitors are expected today, as NorCal riders are just a month away from the national championships in Portland.

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