The 24-year-old won two sprint world titles in 2013, but saw the next two years blighted by a knee injury. She only returned to racing for the Great Britain squad in November.
“It’s just absolutely amazing I can’t believe it. It’s been quite a surreal day,” James said.
“To win in front of the crowd they really got me going. For me to be back at my first Worlds, everything is a bonus after that.”
James didn’t have an entirely easy path to the final, having to qualify via the repechage. However, in front of a roaring home crowd she pulled out a gutsy ride to land a podium place, with only established sprinters Kristina Vogel (Germany) and Anna Meares (Australia) ahead of her, as her family watched in the stands.
“[In the] first round I got third, it was a really hard ride, my legs were absolutely screaming. And then repechage, I kind of went in with an open mind, didn’t really think much tactically Jan [van Eijden] my coach just said to me this is what you’re good at tactical stuff jus go in and race and that’s what I did.
“To get top three in the semis was just not what I expected, and then to get a bronze medal is just unbelievable I just can’t get my head around it.”
James said this performance was “the best she’s been since before my injury” and explained “there is definitely more to come”.
She added: “I’m going in the right direction. Each week I’ve just seen improvements, week in week out.”
The day before James was in the track centre and watched as her sprint team-mates Katy Marchant and Jess Varnish missed out on a place in the Rio Olympics in the team sprint. After the duo were critical of the British Cycling leadership following a disappointing two-year qualifying campaign.
“It was really, really disappointing for us all, but it’s one of those things you have to accept it and move on,” James added.
“It’s frustrating for us all, but it’s one of those things, we can’t change the past.”