ANOTHER incredible weekend of triathlon action came to Bolton as Ironman UK splashed, cycled and ran its way through the town. TOM GEORGE and BRAD MARSHALL report.

THOUSANDS of triathletes took to the streets of Bolton today as Ironman returned to town.

It is the 11th year the event has been held in the town and this year’s will certainly go down as one to remember.

Entrants took on a gruelling course, which involved a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a marathon.

Brian Fogarty, from Blackburn, swept away the competition to secure victory at the seventh attempt, finishing with a time of 09:27:12.

Italian Francesco Masciarelli and Lukas Siska took second and third place respectively.

The first female across the line was Emma Wardall, the winner of the military division, who managed a time of 10:39:48.

She was followed by Kelly Warrington, who took the honours in the women’s field, and Emily Freeman and Julia De Leeuw, who completed the women’s podium.

A total of 1,900 competitors, spanning a huge age range, set out from Pennington Flash in Leigh at 6am. The youngest entrant was 17-years-old, while the oldest was an incredible 70-years-old.

Although the majority of entrants came from across the UK, there was also a fantastic showing by international competitors.

Among those who had travelled from overseas was Frenchman Olivier Maddens from Nice.

Although this was his first time in Bolton, the 51-year-old is an Ironman veteran, having quit his job to pursue a semi-professional career in the endurance sport.

Over the years, Mr Maddens has raced across the globe but on Saturday his race was almost over before it started after he damaged his bike. But a mad scramble around bike shops across the North West and Mr Maddens was able to make repairs just in time.

A little closer to home, were pals Nick Bellman and Sam Feek, from Windsor. The race was the first time for the 40-year-old and 39-year-old friends and both were wary of the gruelling cycle across Lancashire.

They said: “We both just want to finish but if we can get as close to 12 to 13 hours we’ll be happy.”

Also running for the first time were Chris Monk and Alex Plant from Manchester.

Both seasoned triathletes, the duo had completed several half Ironman events before.

They said: “We would love to get an Ironman, just for the achievement of completing it and testing ourselves.”

Row after row of competitors streamed into the lake yesterday morning before completing the two laps, which made up the demanding 2.4 mile swim.

The first competitors were out and on their bike in less than an hour with Slovakian-born Siska taking an early lead to Tony Cullen and David Bartlett in the men’s race. The women were led out by Emily Freeman, followed by Lucy Foreman and Naomi Keira Wright.

As the cyclists took to the roads, they headed towards Bolton, through Bury and up the hills into Lancashire.

Just over half way into the cycle, pole position was snatched away from Siska by 35-year-old Fogarty.

The cousin of Superbikes legend Carl Fogarty soon established a healthy lead and, heading into transition two at Queens Park, he was more than 13 minutes in front of his nearest challenger.

Despite the best efforts of Masciarelli, who managed narrow the gap slightly, Fogarty held on for a major victory.

As he crossed the finish line, he lapped up the adulation of the crowd that had gathered in Victoria Square.

After a short, but well-deserved rest in which he posed for pictures on a deck chair, Fogarty said: “It is the best feeling ever. This is something I have dreamed of since I got into the sport.

“I have always done well on this course, so I knew I could win. I just needed a bit of luck.

“The run was tough, but I held it together.

“I did not really have my best of races. I have run better than that but you give what you can on the day and that was enough.”

It was seventh time lucky for Fogarty, who works in insurance in Blackburn, and has become a regular participant in the Bolton race. The victory was made all the more sweet after last year ended in disaster.

He failed to finish after struggling with the swim and crashing twice on the bike.

“It was heartbreaking for my family and friends who came out to support,” he said. “It all came together for me today, though. I will enjoy it while I can.”

31-year-old Wardall, from Oxford, said: “I am absolutely ecstatic, this is a shock. It was a really tough, challenging course.

“The bike ride was the toughest I have ever done, but that has just made it all the more rewarding.”

It was Wardall’s fourth Ironman event and her third in Bolton, and she describes the support she received this year as “amazing”.

She added: “Bolton to me is just magical, it is fantastic.”

The full Ironman was the culmination of a fantastic weekend of events in the town. The weekend kicked off with the first ever Night Run through Bolton on Friday night and, on Saturday, 3,000 youngsters took part in the world’s biggest IronKids event in Victoria Square.