A carnival atmosphere on the streets of Leeds city centre welcomed around 3,000 non-professional triathletes as they reached the final stages of the city’s triathlon today.
Staged races for different age groups got underway early this morning and saw amateurs complete a course that reflected the route laid out for the pros in the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds this afternoon.
Hundreds of spectators lined the streets and gathered at the finish line in Millennium Square and at Victoria Gardens to cheer on the participants - some waving Yorkshire white rose flags, ringing bells and holding aloft signs with slogans of support - and the crowds thickened as the professionals, including local heroes Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, began to take centre stage.
Claire Sorley of Beeston was watching on near The Headrow to cheer on her husband David, with her children Evie, six, Ben, 10, and Milly, 12 and the children’s grandmother who travelled in from Harrogate. The family held up a homemade cardboard sign which was painted in rainbow colours and was adorned with the words ‘Touch 4 power boost’ next to a 3D tin foil button.
Mrs Sorley said: “My husband wanted us to be here near the end to give him a power boost. A lot of runners came up and touched the sign as they ran past and it’s been really nice with people who have finished coming back and saying thanks, it really helped.”
Despite having only started to walk again in April last year after a serious motorcycle accident in October 2015 which left him wheelchair-bound for four-and-a-half months, Dave Ebsworth, 34, of Burley, Leeds completed the route whilst wearing a prosthetic lower right leg and recorded a time of around four-and-a-half hours.
He said: “Six months ago I decided I was going to do it. It’s been a brilliant experience. I’ve had lots of support and people patting me on the back on the way round.”
Matthew Brown, 43, lives next to Roundhay Park and takes part in one triathlon a year.
“It’s brilliant,” he said of the event having crossed the finish line with a time of around two-and-a-half hours. “I love all the World Championship stuff - the blue carpet and doing it in the same area as the world champions are doing it.
“The weather has been so great, the organisation excellent and the support coming into the city centre was brilliant.”
Leeds student Katie Smith, 22, said: “It was a great experience. I did it last year as well but this time it was 10 times better. The course was better, the run was really great. To run into town, with all the support around you, was really something.
“I love watching the triathlon on TV and the Brownlees are my idols. I wanted to be like them today!”
Christian Ulf-Hansen, 55, of Hertfordshire, was taking part after recovering from serious injuries including a broken collarbone and embarking on a healthy lifestyle having given up smoking and losing weight.
Leeds was his third triathlon this year and he completed the route in about one hour and 35 minutes.
He said: “I loved it. There were a lot of very nice people cheering us on. The people of Leeds have been very supportive along the route and believe me, it makes a real difference.
“My favourite bit was when I came round a corner and there was a brass band playing. I find them really emotional and there were so many people clapping - I very nearly cried.
“One reason I came here is because it is the home of the Brownlees and I’m a big fan of them so to do a race up here is special. They have put triathlon as a sport and Leeds as a city on the map. I think a lot of people know about Leeds because of the Brownlees.”
Jeffrey De La Raga, 43, from Birmingham, finished in just under three hours.
“The swim I was thinking was a short distance but it took a while to complete the lap. It’s been a nice event, my first Leeds triathlon - I was surprised by the lake (at Roundhay Park) because it was so clean - and the locals were giving us high-fives as we passed them, it was lovely.”
Joey Taylor, 20, from Bristol, completed her first triathlon in around one hour and 50 minutes having signed up for the event just before the end of the registration deadline.
“I really enjoyed it despite a few wobbly moments,” she said.
Organisers at British Triathlon said that some 400 volunteers were involved in staging today’s event.
Event sponsor Columbia Threadneedle Investments said they were delighted with how the weekend had unfolded so far.
Alison Jefferis, the firm’s head of corporate affairs, said: “Leeds has proved unrivalled in terms of support for the event. There is a great relationship with Leeds City Council and British Triathlon and ourselves and we’ve seen a lot of commitment from the city. It makes for a good mix and means we have been able to really bring the event along.
“We sponsored the triathlon in London for the two years before the decision to come to Leeds, something which there were mixed views about but we have found there is real commitment to the sport here and having the Brownlees here really brings a special element and ensures people get behind it.
“It’s been a great weekend and I think the weather has been very kind to us.