Even though there won’t be the excitement of a final sprint between riders or a crowd to cheer on cyclists, the 40th annual Road Apple Rally mountain bike race will proceed this year, albeit in an altered format.
The “virtual” race will be held over a two-week period starting Oct. 3 and ending Oct. 17. Riders can register at any point during the two-week period. To participate in the race, riders will record themselves biking the Road Apple Rally course, using the fitness tracking apps Strava or MTB Project, and send a screenshot to event organizers once they are finished. The two courses are the same as previous years: a 30-mile and a 15-mile loop that starts in Farmington and wanders into the Bureau of Land Management Glade Run Recreation Area outside of town.
The race is organized by the Farmington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs department and claims to be the longest continually run mountain bike race in the country.
Christa Chapman, the department’s spokeswoman, said racers typically have traveled from out of town to participate, but she anticipates attendance from outside the Four Corners will be down. However, race organizers are hopeful the adjusted format attracts a new kind of rider.
“We’re actually hopeful that we may get different kinds of riders,” Chapman said. “Like maybe some more beginner riders that won’t feel as pressured given that they can go out and ride on their own time and they don’t feel like a bunch of people are watching them.”
Chapman said there will be no cash prizes for the winners this year, so there shouldn’t be motivation to cheat.
While Chapman encouraged riders from the Durango area to participate, she said in order to comply with New Mexico guidelines, any rider who is coming from outside the state of New Mexico is expected to have received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entering the state.
Last year’s winner in the men’s competition and Durango resident Todd Wells said he plans to register for the event but might find a 30-mile ride in Durango to do instead of riding the course in Farmington. However, he was excited the race found a way to operate this year.
“It’s good to see that the Road Apple is continuing on since they are, I believe to be, the longest running mountain bike race in the country. It’s awesome they are going to keep that number building,” Wells said.
Wells said a lot of races have gone virtual because of COVID-19 and the experience of participating in a race without the other riders is vastly different. He participates in the virtual events to support the races.
“We almost take for granted that they are always there. But, these events, in most cases, are not giant money-makers,” Wells said. “For me, participating in these events is more about supporting these events in hopes that once COVID-19 is over and things are back to whatever normal is, that those events will be able to continue and missing their event this year won’t bankrupt them and make that event go away.”
Wells first participated in the Road Apple Rally in 1995 and estimated he’s participated in about half of the races since then. The course is what keeps bringing him back.
“The trails themselves are a blast,” he said. “Typically, cross-country mountain biking when you get to the higher levels, it’s about who can ride at their threshold or that area that feels really bad – who can sustain it. So, you don’t see a lot of smiles in these races typically. But, the Road Apple Rally, once you get going, you don’t have to pedal. It’s just fun.”
Wells hoped that other riders would register for the virtual race this year to ensure the race will continue for years to come.
“We always think of Durango as this big mountain bike town, but it’s awesome that this smaller desert town that might not be on the radar for everyone in the mountain bike world holds the title of the longest running race. I hope it continues,” Wells said.
Road Apple historyThe Road Apple Rally race was established by community members in 1981, making this its 40th year.
Chapman said the race was created “back even before mountain biking was a thing. People were just putting fat tires on their road bikes.”
Participants used to ride alongside trail horses and the race received its name from the large amounts of horse manure riders would encounter.
The course is the same every year. Some years riders race the course in the opposite direction, but Chapman said that direction is unpopular with most riders. This year, the course will be in the normal direction.