Britain's Alex Yee admitted he was simply grateful for the chance to race against his idols after clinching a silver medal in his first ITU World Triathlon Series event in the UAE.
The 21-year-old pushed world champion Mario Mola all the way in Abu Dhabi before finishing second behind the Spaniard, while Fernando Alarza completed the podium.
Yee’s medal was one of two on the day for Britain as Jessica Learmonth stopped a USA clean sweep in the women’s race to pick up bronze at Yas Marina.
And after suffering significant injuries in his first World Cup triathlon in Cagliari in June 2017, when he crashed into a concrete bollard, Yee was delighted to be in the thick of the action again.
“Second is above and beyond what I expected,” he said. “I came in just wanting this experience but training camp had gone well and I wanted to see how I went at this level, so I’m over the moon.
“These guys are my idols. I’ve watched them race over the years and it’s great just to be able to race on the same level as them, let alone be in a competitive situation with them.
“After my accident, this level of racing at times seemed so far in the distance. It’s credit to British Triathlon and all of the support staff that I can even race, so I’m really fortunate.”
The race played to Yee’s strengths as an attempted breakaway on the bike by fellow Brit Tom Bishop failed to separate the field, leaving a large pack fighting it out for superiority.
Despite New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde initially trying to create a gap on the run, it soon turned into a two-horse race between Yee and Mola, with the latter looking to go one better than his 2018 result.
Yee, who clocked a sub 28-minute 10k on the track last year, managed another storming run before Mola - currently number one on both the ITU World and Olympic rankings – ultimately prevailed.
Bishop capped off a fine performance for Britain’s men by finishing in ninth place after a strong all-round performance.
In the women’s race, four out of Britain’s five entrants finished in the top 10 as Learmonth claimed the bronze medal behind USA’s Katie Zaferes and Taylor Spivey.
Non Stanford was not far behind her teammate in fifth, while 2018 ITU World Champion Vicky Holland was eighth and Georgia-Taylor Brown finished in ninth.
After a strong bike performance, India Lee came home in 26th place as American Zaferes continued her fine run of form to dominate proceedings after breaking away during the run.
Learmonth said: “Taylor (Knibb) kept pushing and I thought she might go past me. I thought it was going to be sprint finish which I didn’t really want, so I had to make a move before that and try to create a gap.
“I was hoping someone could have helped Katie (Zaferes) and I out on the bike a bit, but I think some of them were struggling which means we must have been riding well. It’s great to finally have a breakaway that’s actually worked, though.
“I just came here to get around really, so I’m surprised with how well it’s gone. It’s a big year for Olympic selection and the British girls are so strong, so I’m taking it one race at a time.”