FARMINGTON — The Road Apple Rally course hasn't changed much over the years, but Mother Nature does its best to throw racers a curve ball every few years.
The 32nd Annual Road Apple Rally mountain bike race is this Saturday at Lions Wilderness Park. Riders in five different divisions will compete in the longest running annual mountain bike race in the country.
Racers will ride over rolling hills through tight trails lined with juniper and piñon trees. Terrain varies from paved roadways to sandstone and sandy arroyos.
This year, heavy rains have resulted in deeper sand pits than normal.
"I think people are going to think we imported sand in some of the washes this year," said Shawn Lyle, superintendent of Cultural Affairs at the City of Farmington and organizer of the event since 2000. "Even the main dirt road climbing to the west side is real sandy. It will increase the challenges on the course."
Last year, 240 people raced in the Road Apple Rally. Lyle expects about the same number this year across the pro, expert, sport, single speed and beginner divisions.
Todd Wells, of Durango, Colo., was last year's champion in the male pro division. He finished the 30-mile course in one hour, 37 minutes and 36 seconds. Durango's Carmen Small was the women's pro division champ, finishing with a time of 1:55:55.
Lyle began volunteering on the Road Apple Rally crew in 1988. After seeing the race from every angle over the years, Lyle said the event would be an impossible undertaking if not for the work of more than 30 volunteers.
"That's what makes it successful. If I didn't have a group of people helping mark the course or helping out on race day, it would be impossible," Lyle said.
Delwyn Werito, of Cottonwood Cycles in Farmington, helped organize a group of riders to mark the 30-mile and 15-mile loops. Werito said it is unique to be part of an event where beginning riders can mix in with professionals.
"It is a cool local thing that makes people go get out and ride," Werito said. "It is motivation for some people to go get out there instead of sitting on the couch. It shows people where they can go ride or even hike here in Farmington."
Werito said he hopes for no rain between now and Saturday's race. The course already offers enough challenges due to recent storms, he said.
"The Road Apple course challenges endurance. It is long and not very technical, but it has been made tougher since the flood storms came in," he said. "That makes some people a little nervous. If you get stuck in one of those washes or in a sand pit, it can throw you. Even experienced riders get stuck in there."
Regular registration for the race closed on Wednesday, but late registration continues through today.
Lyle said cooler temperatures are expected on race day.
"I have always thought of this as the last event before winter," he said. "Right now, the forecast says the high will be about 61 degrees. That is good for the riders. We aren't expecting any more weather, and the sections of the course I have seen look in decent shape."John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.