Leeds-based triathlete Max Stapley relished being part of the British pack, who put in a promising performance at their home World Championship Series race in Sunderland.
Born in France, raised in Canada and Australia but now representing Britain and calling the country’s triathlon capital home, Stapley was making his WTCS debut in the North East.
Roker Beach welcomed the best triathletes from around the world as well as thousands of amateur participants over a weekend festival of swim, bike, run.
Stapley took his chance and despite finishing 31st, rubbed shoulders with the likes of world champion Léo Bergère and Commonwealth silver medallist Hayden Wilde on the bike leg.
“I was supported all along the course and I gave it my all,” said the 23-year-old.
“My plan was to come in and commit. I’m disappointed right now but grateful and it was so good to be here.”
Stapley emerged from the swim ahead of some of the big names and leading contenders, transitioning onto the bike leg in fifth place.
Joined by British team-mate Barclay Izzard in a strong lead group, he pushed the pace more than most before the leaders were caught by the chasers with one lap of a technical course to go.
“I had a pretty good swim,” said Stapley. “The bike was incredibly hard, we had a small gap and tried to push it and I tried to contribute like I could.
“Unfortunately it didn’t stick and I didn’t have the legs after that big effort on the bike, it’s the highest power I’ve ever pushed.”
Izzard placed eighth and Willis 20th - a personal best for both - in a strong showing for a British team who were without Olympic champions Alex Yee and Jonny Brownlee, focusing on the upcoming Paris 2024 Test Event.
Stapley said: “Once you see a GB suit in the pack, you know you’ve got a friend there. We’re competitors but there’s a certain sense of patriotism in there.
“I was marking Barclay’s wheel and I think he was doing the same. I’m super proud of his eighth position and that was a breakthrough race for him, he deserves every bit of that and I take my hat off to him.
“I was quite far back but I tried to give the crowd a wave when I crossed the line, even though I was knackered!”