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Ten years after tragedy, California cyclist’s legacy continues to do good

The Amgen Tour rides up Mount Hamilton, where a prominent area cyclist died 10 years ago; his legacy continues to inspire and empower

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As an elated Toms Skujins crossed the finish line alone on the Amgen Tour of California’s stage 3 mountaintop finish outside of San Jose, Blair Clark stood watching on the roadside.

Clark, the vice president of sales at GU, had just finished riding the entire route of that day’s stage, starting a few hours ahead of the race peloton. Joining a group of friends and coworkers from GU, Clark climbed up and over Mount Hamilton, just like the pros. It was a long ride, maybe seven hours in the saddle.

On that day, the Mount Hamilton stage claimed a special place in Skujins’ career, launching him from relative anonymity to the yellow jersey. But for Clark, the course already had significance in his life. Ten years ago, it’s where his brother, Paul, died.

Paul Clark was a San Francisco attorney who loved to ride his bike. An avid cyclist, kayaker, and diver, friends said he did everything possible to minimize recreational risks and play safe. Clark gave back to society to protect the natural world he loved, providing pro bono legal service to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Trust for Public Land.

On April 26, 2005, Paul Clark was riding on Mines Road to Mount Hamilton when he was struck head-on by the driver of pickup truck that crossed the centerline. It killed him instantly. The driver fled, leaving Clark in a ravine for three hours until the driver’s wife convinced him to return to the scene.

The police report indicated Clark was pedaling properly near the right shoulder of the road when he was hit.

While an accident reconstruction specialist was investigating the scene, a local driver approached John Clark, Paul’s youngest brother, and said, “Bike riders don’t belong on these roads. This is not a playground. Your brother has ruined my neighbor’s life because he has to live with this accident.”

The driver eventually escaped with no fines and no jail time. Rather than pushing for a harsher punishment, Blair Clark channeled the community’s grief into action. Through the Bikes Belong Foundation (known today as the PeopleForBikes Foundation), he established the Paul David Clark Bicycling Safety Fund, dedicated to improving bike safety and inspiring a new generation of bicyclists.

“No court ruling nor Paul’s death could take the vitality from my life that Paul contributed,” said Clark.

Paul Clark’s death was a catalyst for change. Donations from the California bicycling community poured in and have continued over the years. In the decade since Clark’s death, the fund created in his honor has supported a number of projects to promote safety and youth ridership, including the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League, the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and various share-the-road campaigns. This week, PeopleForBikes announced that the Clark Fund would make a large contribution to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), to help in the formation of a new regional league.

“NICA’s core values of enabling every student-athlete to develop a strong body, a strong mind and a strong character through their efforts on the bike is a fitting tribute to my brother Paul, whose love of the outdoors and cycling in particular, made him a role model for others,” said Clark.

As the rest of the peloton crested the final stage 3 climb, the gruppetto rolled in, and team vehicles gradually began emptying out of the parking lot, it was finally time for Clark and the GU riders to leave. Despite the fatigue from the 115-mile ride and the emotional weight of the day, Clark was smiling.

It was the first time he had returned to the site of his brother’s death in 10 years. Paul Clark’s energy was living on.