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And the winner is . . . Stafford! - Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in pictures

By John Scott | Staffordshire | News | Published:

Elliot Smales ran away with the men's race in the Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and Emma Pallant romped to victory in the women's event today.

But the real winner was sun soaked Stafford town centre which staged the finish of the four year old annual event for the first time.

Thousands packed the narrow streets applauding and cheering on the competitors as they streamed through on the final leg of the triathlon.

Athletes, spectators and local businesses were delighted with the switch from Shugborough Hall in Great Haywood which hosted the four-year-old event.

Delighted Smales, aged 23 from Leeds, who only turned pro last year, celebrated was his first Ironman triumph.

He told the Express & Star after crossing the finishing line: "I felt really bad on the first lap of the run and thought of giving up but the support from the crowds there was amazing.

"That kind of reaction makes you stick at it and by the second lap I felt a lot better. The atmosphere on the run leg was far better than last year when I came third."

Pallant, a 29-year-old Brit competing in the Staffordshire race for the first time - and with victories in South Africa and Barcelona already under her belt - said: "I loved it. The atmosphere was great. It felt like a real event. I will definitely be back next year."

Justine Drury, who had travelled from her home in Nottingham to watch the event, declared: "I think this is a brilliant place for the final leg. It is so good for the athletes who are very tired at that stage and needs a special atmosphere to keep them going. I was surprised how nice a town Stafford is."

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Katie Raba, aged 38, who lives in Stafford and took her daughter Chloe to the event, confessed: "We would never have gone to Shugborough. This time it has brought lots of tourists to the town."

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Ben Evans, a member of the team serving customers at Greggs revealed: "The race has been great for business. It is so much busier than a normal Sunday. On top of that here is a great atmosphere outside and the customers are all happy when they come to be served."

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Emma Frost, assistant manager at the town centre Boots branch, commented: "It has highlighted Stafford and drawn people here from all over the world but street closures caused problems for our deliveries."

Councillor Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, declared delightedly: "Look down the main street. It is more crowded than on market day. At Shugborough you had relatives of those taking part but here you have the general public. It is a win-win situation for everyone and a brilliant event for the county, boosting the local economy, businesses and tourism."

Councillor Patrick Farrington, leader of Stafford Borough Council, added: "Local hotels and guest houses have been booked out, cafes and restaurants have seen business like never before and Victoria Park is teeming with people. It has been better than we dared hope."

Around 2,300 individual athletes and 40 relay teams from 30 different countries lined up at the start of the event which was delayed for an hour by fog over Chasewater reservoir where the 1.2-mile swim formed the first leg of the gruelling triathlon.

This was followed by a 56-mile ride through the heart of the Staffordshire countryside, skirting Lichfield and Burton before crossing Cannock Chase and heading for Stafford where competitors quickly dismounted and began a 13.1-mile run through town centre streets, finishing at Market Square.

The annual event has given the area's economy a regular shot in the arm since it began four years ago. Last year an estimated £1.4million was spent on food and accommodation by competitors with a further £1million being spent by spectators over the weekend.

Jonathan Price, a Stafford Town Centre Partnership Board member and both borough and country councillor, with a computer shop in the town said: "I am pleased and proud that this year's Ironman was centred on Stafford. It made the event far more accessible for the public than when the finish was at Shugborough. This put Stafford on the map and gave us a great opportunity to show what the town has to offer.

"We promote ourselves internally but I do not think we have been doing enough to bang the drum further afield. The Ironman has now introduced us to a far wider audience. This can do nothing but good for the town. Some people will have been upset by the road closures while others will have come to the town centre for the first time. Hopefully they will want to come back."

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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