THE heat really was on the Ironman athletes yesterday as the sun returned to Bolton on one of the biggest days of the town’s sporting calendar.

Supporters from across the borough and from as far away as Colombia packed into Victoria Square to cheer as Jersey’s Dan Halksworth won Ironman UK 2012 — almost nine hours after he started by diving into Pennington Flash.

Thousands more, including TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson, lined the 112-mile biking course in Westhoughton , Horwich and Rivington and the marathon route in Blackrod, Chorley New Road and Le Mans Crescent.

After suffering weeks of rain, supporters enjoyed the summer sunshine — but the heat was not well received by all.

Searing temperatures of up to 25 degrees centigrade, coupled with winds up of to 30mph on higher parts of the cycle route made life hard for the 1,500 competitors, who represented 34 nations.

The warm conditions left organisers fighting to get enough water to feeding stations dotted around the course and meant that athletes finished in times well down on previous years.

There were fears that many athletes would face the heartbreak of not finishing before the 11pm cut-off point last night after a jaw-dropping 17 hours of competition.

Halksworth, meanwhile, dedicated his debut Ironman win — in eight hours 55 minutes — to former coach Jack Ralston who has been given just three weeks to live.

Walkden ’s Paul Hawkins came home third to deafening cheers from his home support and the women’s contest was won by Ireland’s Eimear Mullan.

Another winner was Bolton’s economy.

Hotels housing athletes and fans were fully booked, and several hundred shops opened specially for the day, meaning traders enjoyed an estimated £10 million boost to the local economy.

Bolton’s deputy mayor, Cllr Noel Spencer, who handed out medals on the finishing line hailed the day’s success.

He said: “There are very few days that have made me this proud to be a Boltonian.

“It has been a day to remember. We hope that the race organisers are just as impressed so we can have all this fun again next year.”