Eric Marcotte pedaled toward for the finish line, convinced his streak of El Tour de Tucson wins had died.

Which was too bad, too, because a three-peat was starting to sound pretty good.

"Last year, I really didn't care, because I had already notched it off my belt," the Scottsdale chiropractor said. "This year … I actually wanted to.

"Because that's pretty special, three in a row."

Then, somehow, with about 200 meters to go Saturday, his competition slowed down. Rafael Escarcega, the 2009 El Tour champ, "kinda sat up," Marcotte said, so he went for it.

"Oh my gosh, why not try?" Marcotte, 32, said. "You only live once, and you'd be mad at yourself if you didn't do that last five seconds.

"I mean, it's five seconds."

Marcotte passed Escarcega and held him off the rest of the way, winning his third straight El Tour de Tucson main event with a time of 4:13:28.

Escarcega, a Hermosillo native, said he mistook the first of two archways of balloons that stretched across the straightaway for the finish line. He slowed for a "couple of seconds," which was enough for Marcotte to beat him by six-tenths of a second in the 111-mile ride.

"When I was coming down," he said through a translator, "I got a bit confused with the balloons and the finish line.

"It was a bit confusing, the way they had two arcs there."

Marcotte said the 23-year-old "slowed down like he was fatigued."

Marcotte "started to sprint earlier than I thought he would," said David Richter, the 42-year-old who finished third at 4:13:43, "and Eric's a good sprinter."

Marcotte didn't want to have to sprint against Richter, though.

"I had to use my fitness to get away from him," he said. "One-on-one he'd probably beat me."

The tight finish highlighted El Tour's 30th edition, which drew 8,537 riders and an estimated 35,500 spectators.

The rider total was 208 fewer than last year, but El Tour set records with 652 participants in the 85-miler, 1,701 in the 60-miler, 620 in the fun ride and 501 indoors.

Minutes after Marcotte's victory, former Olympic cyclist John Howard, of Encinitas, Calif., crashed during on the final straightaway. El Tour officials said late afternoon Saturday he was not thought to have broken any bones.

The threat of injury is one factor that could, maybe, keep Marcotte from returning to seriously defend his crown.

The chiropractor's 2013 decision is a long way away, though.

"I might do the event," he said, "but not go for the win or anything like that."

"I mean, I got patients on Monday."