ATHLETES of all ages have come to Horwich for its annual racing festival.

Today was the first full day of the 17th Horwich Festival of Racing with events through the afternoon and into the evening.

The day began at noon with a children's Fun Swim Run at Horwich Leisure Centre before racers took to the streets of Horwich in the Challenge Triathlon and the NHS Friends and Family Triathlon.

Horwich Festival of Racing secretary, Christine Ellis said: "The weather has been great and it's the first time in the new leisure centre. It's an improvement, the changing rooms and pool are lovely."

At 7pm the cycle races kicked off with the Emerson Cycle Race, started by town mayor of Horwich Cllr Peter Wright.

The Fun Swim Run for under 12s was completed by 62 children. It started in the leisure centre in Victoria Road with different ages swimming different numbers of lengths before the young athletes then raced laps around nearby Old Station Park.

Mrs Ellis said the NHS triathlon and the Challenge Triathlon had been run together with the more experienced athletes starting first.

She said: "There were a lot of people doing it for the first time and there was a lot of encouragement from people who had done it before."

In the NHS triathlon the competitors can compete in teams to turn the event into a relay race, giving less experienced athletes a chance to try out a triathlon.

Cllr Wright said: "The festival brings tourism to Horwich and so does the carnival and a town of this size can get really into it. It's a nice circuit of the town centre.

"It's the first time I've started one of the races so I was very excited."

Cllr Wright waved the starting flag on the Emerson Cycle Race where 45 cyclists raced around the route, starting in Lee Lane going into Chorley New Road and up Winter Hey Lane to loop back into Lee Lane.

Bolton West MP Chris Green also attended the festival, he said: "I'm delighted to be here a the launch of the Horwich Festival of Racing it's fantastic to see these athletes who put so much effort in to make such wonderful use of out beautiful town."

The last race of the day was the Emerson Horwich Grand Prix Cycle Race for 61 elite cyclists who completed 30 laps of the route.

The festival continues tomorrow morning at 9.45am with the USN Bolton Arena Youth Cycle Races through the town centre.

There will also be sprint orienteering from 10am, a youth cycling relay at 11.30am, the sixth British National Unicycle Road Race at 1.05pm and the Bolton at Home Fun Run in fancy dress at 2.45pm.

The last event is the 3.35pm Age Related Handicapped Criterium Cycle Race where competitors up to age 70 will race.