“Paule Ka threw us a lifeline .… it’s been ripped away.”

Lizzy Banks has spoken openly to Eurosport about the hugely disappointing news that Equipe Paule Ka have been forced to close with immediate effect.

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The women’s continental Tour team lost investments from Bigla and Katusha in April as the impact of coronavirus hit the sport. But the team were rescued by French company Paule Ka in June with a supposed three-and-a-half year deal.

Banks says that rescue package never materialised with the team confirming in a statement on Friday that the sponsors have not made a single of the scheduled payments since August.

Watch the full exclusive interview with Lizzy Banks on shock closure of women's cycling team Equipe

And in a fascinating interview with Eurosport’s Orla Chennaoui, Banks says that the sponsors have not just let down her and the team, but the entirety of women’s sport.

“(I feel) hugely let down by Paule Ka, by their management, their owner Matthias,” Banks said.

“He threw us a lifeline and we were all so grateful and so praise-giving towards him, when he’d come on board in the middle of a pandemic and committed to us for three-and-a-half years.

We paid that back immediately by going out there and getting some results which are unheard of for World Tour teams sometimes, let alone a small continental team who’ve managed to raise their way up to fourth in the world.

“We believed that we had everything going for us. A small team fighting and achieving and getting results at the highest level, and we were going to continue to do so for the next three years and we were working towards being a World Tour team. And suddenly it all gets ripped from you.

“I’m so angry that he has let us down like this and he has let women’s sport down. It’s put us in a position where we’re negotiating for contracts at a time when it’s terrible to negotiate for contracts right now. If we’d have all been on the market one month ago then it would be a very different situation.

But despite that, we thought that women’s cycling was in a better place, because we thought we had a sponsor who really believed in us, who believed in what we could do.

“I don’t want to be bitter about this sport, I don’t want it to make me bitter, but it’s a really, really hard pill to swallow.”

The team boss of Equipe Paule Ka, Thomas Campana, told Eurosport that he hadn’t heard from the sponsors for over two weeks before they informed him the were pulling out of the agreement.

Campana also revealed that he has been personally paying the staff’s wages for the past three months in the absence of payments from the sponsors.

The written agreement with Paule Ka, according to Campana, runs through to the end of this year, with a verbal agreement that the partnership would be extended by three years upon the team achieving World Tour status.

Lizzy Banks: 'Paule Ka threw us a lifeline; it’s been ripped away.'

EQUIPE PAULE KA PRESS RELEASE

It is with great regret that Équipe Paule Ka announces the immediate cessation of its racing season and, unfortunately, the closure of the team - currently ranked fourth in the world with over 3000 UCI points - due to the absence of sponsor payments since August.

After late payment of its first instalment in July, the French fashion company Paule Ka then failed to pay the team in the months of August, September and October, despite multiple assurances that the payments were on their way.

This is an extremely sad moment in the 15-year history of this squad, which prides itself on the development of exciting young talent within the peloton. The team's riders and staff were looking forward to spending several more years together in the pursuit of sportive success, having already recommenced the season with a series of victories and top results, including an emphatic Giro Rosa stage win, silver at the UCI World Championships, bronze at the European Championships, as well as multiple national championship titles.

However, this can regrettably no longer be our shared goal, with the team being forced to dissolve after a decade and a half in the peloton. Now, our main aim is to find both riders and staff new teams to secure their futures.

We would like to extend sincere thanks to cycling fans all over the world, followers of the team, and our competitors within the peloton, who have reached out to us during this challenging time to let us know that our presence in the peloton is one that would be sorely missed.

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