What began as a downhill race turned into a river run. Which, it turns out, didn't bother the bike racers at all. They simply went with the flow.

As the hour approached for the start of the pro downhill in the NORBA National Championships on Saturday, dark clouds moved in and released their burden. For a brief period it seemed like it was all at once. Racers admitted after that they've ridden during rainstorms before, but never one so heavy or one that started right with the race.Leigh Donovan of San Clemente, Calif., by a quirk of fate, happened to be one of the early starters. During qualifying earlier in the day she found herself pedaling a flat tire halfway down the course. It was, said one official, amazing she was able to qualify at all, "and probably wouldn't have if the course hadn't been muddy, which made everyone slow."

She was 24th of 35 riders in the women's class, which meant on a reverse start she was 11th out of the start.

At the time it was raining heavily, which proved to be a benefit. She said it kept the mud washed off the rocks, which kept the course from becoming slippery. Then she simply followed the river that had formed and was able to go as fast as she wanted.

She won the event with a time of five minutes, 49.99 seconds. Second was Cheri Elliott of Cameron Park, Calif., in 5:54.71 and third was Kim Sonier of Flagstaff, Ariz., in 5:55.71.

When Brian Lopes of Laguna Beach, Calif., started off in the men's pro downhill, the heavy rain had turned to a drizzle. Still, he said, "The trail was running like a river."

For this race, too, the flowing water kept the rocks washed clean of mud and allowed him to "ride as fast as I would have if the track had been dry. Fast, but within my limits."

The rain did cause him one problem, however. He didn't prepare with enough clear tear-away sheets on his goggles, "and in places I had trouble seeing the course."

He said he rode smoothly and kept his momentum up, "and pedaled in what few places I could pedal. I think that was the difference for me. I did make two mistakes, one of them almost cost me the race. I lost control about halfway down, went to the front of the bike and had to put my foot down to regain control. I almost didn't, though. I don't think I lost much time, but it was close."

Jurgen Beneke of Longmont, Colo., the current points leader in the pro downhill, said after the race that he also followed the river, which, it turned out, was definitely the best track. Lopes is second behind Beneke in the points race.

The downhill course was 1.7 miles and dropped 1,200 vertical feet. It twisted, turned and dropped, for most of the way, on a narrow single track, sometimes only wide enough for the bike handles.

Lopes' time was 5:02.34 and Beneke's time was 5:03.71. Third was Scott Sharples in 5:05.04.

Utah's only finisher in the men's pro class was Mitch McBeth of Provo in 62nd. Utah's only finisher in the women's pro class was Kristina Nicholas of Park City in 33rd.

In the pro dual slalom held late Saturday, Lopes was not so lucky. Leading after the first run in the finals, he lost at the finish to Eric Carter of Temecula, Calif.

In the women's finals, Sari Jorgensen of California beat Leigh Donovan of San Clemente, Calif., on both runs. Donovan won the hillclimb on Thursday.

The event wraps up today with the men's and women's cross country. The women are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., the men at 1 p.m.