The Tour de France is a flat-out, gotta-win-at-all-costs bicycle race. Forget the Tour part. That's just for TV cameras and photographers.
El Tour de Tucson is marketed differently. There's no prize money. It's 109 miles of cramp-inducing exercise that has been won by hydrologists, chiropractors and aerospace engineers.
"It's interesting all the publicity you get for having the fastest time, but it's still just a fun event for me,'' said Kent Bostick, a UA grad, Olympian and Tennessee hydrologist who won El Tour in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1993.
"It's a tour, not a race. And you have to keep that in mind.''
Do you buy that?
A year ago, Scottsdale chiropractor Eric Marcotte won his second consecutive El Tour, a wild and uncertain finish that wasn't determined until photographs and computer chips identified Marcotte as the winner by 6/100ths of a second.
He described the scene as "mayhem.''
On Saturday, Marcotte has a chance to join Olympians Bostick and Jame Carney, and the inaugural champion, Tucson aerospace engineer David Milne, as the only three-time winners of El Tour de Tucson. How's that for flattering company?
But much like Bostick 22 years ago, Marcotte sold the fun-first approach rather than chronicle how rewarding it is to win a race - any kind of race - that involves 10,000 other people.
"What I care about, more than getting another notch on my belt, is enjoying the day," Marcotte said Monday. "I have a ton of friends who will be riding, and, besides, there's no money in it. Last year, my goal was actually to give others a chance to win."
Marcotte won anyway, holding off a team of Hermosillo, Sonora, riders who had more or less owned El Tour de Tucson, winning in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
"You gotta be doing this because you love it," said Marcotte. "I don't see anybody quitting their day job to prepare for it."
Across 29 years of El Tour de Tucson, from a modest event that barely drew 1,000 in 1983 to one that is almost 10 times larger today, the "Tour" part has always been a noble concept but one that often diminishes once the starter's flag drops.
A lot of the fun-first angle was dispelled in 1991 when Bostick said that he wasn't going to return to defend his four consecutive titles.
But on race day, at the front of the pack, Bostick pedaled frantically for 109 miles. With 100 yards to go, he was head-to-head with Doug Loveday, and, in another photo finish, lost by an eyelash.
"I wasn't sure I was going to race," said Bostick. "But (race organizer) Richard DeBernardis said, 'You can't win five in a row unless you show up at the starting line', so I decided to come."
Driven by what he refers to as "a spectacle," Bostick kept returning to the starting line, finishing fourth as recently as 2002. He was 49.
Marcotte is no one's idea of a weekend cyclist. Even though he broke his collarbone in a crash last spring, he fought back to win professional races such as the "Hotter Than Hell Hundred," in Texas and the "St. Francis Tulsa Tough" event in Oklahoma.
He hasn't examined this year's starting list, but as a national-class Grand Prix cyclist he knows you don't win El Tour de Tucson without your fastball.
"Twenty guys could win it," Marcotte said. "From that group, there are probably 10 you would take more seriously."
The reason El Tour de Tucson isn't considered a must-win event on the cycling circuit is because (a) the winner gets a medal, not money and (b) it is held in November, about two months after the climax of the cycling season.
But because the race has grown in size and stature, and because of its staying power - El Tour celebrate sits 30th anniversary this week - it long ago surpassed the fun ride stage.
Maybe it's that the champions don't always sense how much others in the field want to beat them.
In 1989, after Bostick had become something of a cycling legend in the Southwest, Tucson's Jimmy Riccitello, who would become a Pima County Sports Hall of Fame triathlete, said: "I wanted to beat Kent; the guy's a stud. He's a former national champion."
Alas, Bostock beat Riccitello by one second in a wild finish that has come to typify El Tour.
In 2005, Curtis Gunn, one of the top cyclists in Tucson history, broke through, joining Milne and '03 champ Phil Zajicek, a Sahuaro High grad, to win El Tour on his home turf.
"It feels great to be a hometown boy," Gunn said then. "In this town you get a lot of notoriety for winning the El Tour de Tucson. So it is something I will be able to remember ... for a long time."
Gunn was riding to win. The fun came later.
On StarNet: Search the database for times from previous El Tour rides at azstarnet.com/eltour
If you go
• What: The University of Arizona Medical Center 30th El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino del Sol Resort
• When: Saturday
• What: 5 races: 111 miles, 85 miles, 60 miles, 42 miles and a kids fun ride
• Info: perimeterbicycling.com