A Mexican team's three-year reign over El Tour de Tucson is over.
Eric Marcotte, a 30-year-old from Phoenix, held off Hector Rangel of Hermosillo, Sonora, in a sprint to the finish line Saturday morning in the 28th annual race that circles the perimeter of Tucson.
A member of the P&S Specialized team from Hermosillo had won each of the last three El Tours. Rangel, 30, finished second last year behind teammate Rafael Escarcega, who placed third Saturday after having a flat tire.
Marcotte, a chiropractor who has finished fifth and sixth the last two El Tours, said he rode with Rangel during the final 60 miles of the 109-mile race. They helped each other in the wind that gusted to 31 mph and slowed times.
"My lungs are burning right now, but it feels good," Marcotte said soon after he won in 4 hours 32 minutes and 34 seconds on a sunny, warm morning.
Hermosillo's other El Tour winners in the streak were David Salomon in 2008 and Carlos Hernandez in 2007.
"We had that on our mind this year and were hoping for it, and luckily it worked out," said Marcotte, dressed in a white and black jersey.
Both Hernandez and Escarcega had flat tires this year.
"We gave it our all. We came to defend our title," Rangel said through interpreter Oscar Corona. "We were doing really well. After the second wash, there were only three of us (left from the four team members at the start). One of us got a flat. That messed up our plans as far as supporting the whole team."
Marcotte also suffered a flat tire with about 30 miles left in the race and kept riding for three miles despite the slow leak. He got a new tire and caught up to Rangel, who finished with the same time as Marcotte.
David Forkner, 25, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Philip Tinstman, 36, of San Marcos, Calif., rounded out the top five.
Saturday was the second-highest registration for an El Tour, 8,695 cyclists participated in the 109-, 79-, 66- 40-mile rides and the fun ride.
Marcotte said his good year of racing carried into Saturday, and he made the right move, marking Rangel after the second wash of the course. Marcotte won the Texas Tough Grand Prix in September, the Downtown Long Beach Criterium in May and the Tucson Bicycle Classic road race in March.
"I just went with him and that ended up being the correct guy to follow," said Marcotte, who was riding for team Pista Palace of San Diego. "If I had done it earlier or waited, I would have missed it."
Marcotte and Rangel worked together, sharing the wind, during the final 60 miles.
"We just kept the pace up really high," Marcotte said. "He had a couple teammates sort of blocking (others) and letting the gap open up. We worked well together with that, used that to our advantage. It was hard out there. It was windy."
Marcotte said he knew the rider that went in the final corner first would win, so he made sure to take the inside line.
"The only thing I would have done differently, coming out on the last turn, I was too wide open and that's why I couldn't sprint as hard as Eric," Rangel said.
"I have to accept he just sprinted harder than me. He was the better, faster guy at the end."
For the P&S Specialized team, Hernandez experienced a flat tire before the second wash, and Escarcega got a flat 20 miles after the second wash. Escarcega said little rocks were on the course. Overall, the ride featured higher competition than last year, he said.
"I really wanted to win, but at the end…thank god we managed to get second and third place," said Escarcega, who won in 4:17:05 last year. "I'm happy with all my teammates and how we did things."