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Thomas’ podium at Strade Bianche a thank-you to new backers Paule Ka

North American rider regrouped after late mechanical to take third-place.

Leah Thomas opened the account for her newly-named squad Équipe Paule Ka Saturday, finishing third in a sun-baked Strade Bianche.

The U.S. rider bounced back from a late mechanical to lead the pursuit of race winner Annemiek van Vleuten and second-place Mavi Garcia, netting the final podium position.

“To land on the podium in a WorldTour race, the first one after coming back from this unknown situation is pretty special,” Thomas said after the race. “I am very happy. I think it’s a great way to start off a new team.”

Saturday’s podium finish marked the first for the team formerly known as Bigla-Katusha after being rescued by new title sponsor Paule Ka in June.

Having started the race one rider short after Clara Koppenburg crashed in the course recon, Équipe Paule Ka rolled out from the start line in Siena down on their luck. However, an aggressive performance from Thomas saw the 31-year-old make it into the lead group in the closing phases of the action and animate the chase when van Vleuten and Garcia went up the road.

“My teammates were fantastic and supported me perfectly throughout the race,” Thomas said in a team statement. “With the peloton dwindling, we were still there in numbers, and that gave us a lot of confidence that we could pull off a good result.”

Thomas’ third place came after dropping her chain and struggling to regain momentum when in solo pursuit of the race leaders inside the final 20 kilometers. The Californian was sucked back into the fracturing group of chasers, however, she was able to rally and win the race for third, fending off late surges from Anna van der Breggen and Elisa Longo Borghini.

Thomas hopes that the podium finish marks a sign of things to come for her team and their new sponsors. With the likes of Lizzy Banks, Elise Chabbey and Koppenberg all adding firepower to the team, they’re looking to continue lighting up races through the restarted season.

“The motivation in the group is high, and I can’t wait for the upcoming races, where we’ll maintain the fighting spirit that we’ve shown today,” she said. “There’s definitely going to be yet more exciting racing coming up from us.”

“We’re really excited to return to racing after the hiatus, and we are incredibly grateful to Paule Ka for backing us through this time. It is support like this that makes us even more motivated to strive for good results.”