Tour de France 2013: Sir Dave Brailsford hails Team Sky effort that propelled Chris Froome to glory

Froome became the second winner from Team Sky in as many years

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The Independent Online

Sir Dave Brailsford has paid tribute to the riders who helped propel Chris Froome to glory in the 100th Tour de France.

While Froome himself looked imperious throughout the Tour, the vaunted Sky train appeared to come off the rails a couple of times early on as injuries bit.

That led to plenty of criticism, with several in the French media suggesting Froome would ultimately be undone by the weaknesses in his squad.

But Geraint Thomas kept on riding on his cracked pelvis and Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard shrugged off injuries of their own and Sky were there for Froome when it mattered in the Alps.

Brailsford bristled at much of the criticism sent his team's way, but believes it only helped in the long run.

"Was it unfair? Totally. Look at the result," he said. "They are a proud bunch these guys. They are performers. And when you tell them they aren't very good, it was fantastic from an energy point of view.

"There is fair criticism that you take on the chin - a bit like the crosswinds day (stage 13 to Saint-Amand-Montrond, when the peloton was split and Froome lost time), they were in the wrong place.

"And there is what they will feel is unfair criticism. It is the unfair criticism that winds people up."

Thomas took the most plaudits of anyone, having ridden through the pain barrier every day since suffering a cracked pelvis in a crash on the very first stage to Bastia more than three weeks ago.

Many expected him to withdraw but the Welshman, a double Olympic champion, was determined to do his bit and fought all the way to Paris - his contribution honoured by Froome who let him lead Team Sky down the Champs-Elysees on the penultimate lap during last night's stage.

"You have guys who are natural fighters and guys who, when the going gets tough, will roll over," Brailsford said. "'G' is one of the best examples of someone who doesn't roll over. He can go so deep that you need to hold him back a bit.

"When you see how much pain someone is in, not just on the bike but trying to lie down, move around the bus. They're willing to go through all that to try and contribute to the team, it's pretty impressive."

Thomas' defining day was the team time trial in Nice, the fourth stage of the race. With his injury still so fresh, Thomas was expected to let the rest of his team go ahead alone and effectively ride his own individual time trial with the sole purpose of avoiding the time cut-off.

But instead, he not only stuck with the rest of the squad until the final run along the Promenade des Anglais, he even did a few turns on the front.

"The energy of the team is something you can't manage. But it is massively important," Brailsford added.

"Sometimes you think you have great energy and suddenly it disappears.

"You need little catalysts to create that energy. 'G' getting to the Promenade des Anglais, and them doing a fantastic team time trial, that reignited a lot of the energy within the group."

The day that brought the most criticism on to Team Sky was stage nine to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

A day earlier, Froome had taken the yellow jersey by capping a brilliant team display on Ax 3 Domaines that had many suggesting the Tour was effectively over inside the first week.

But now Sky seemed to crumble around him, leaving him to ride almost the entire course alone and isolated among his rivals.

Ian Stannard, riding with a back injury suffered on Corsica, was dropped early on along with Thomas and the other walking wounded.

Peter Kennaugh was then caught in a scary crash, disappearing over a mountainside before scrambling back up to the road.

And Richie Porte, Froome's chief lieutenant, surrendered his second place overall as he finished the day 17 minutes off the pace.

"The defining moment of this Tour for me was when Peter Kennaugh went down the ditch," said Brailsford, who explained Porte then burned himself out trying to do the work of several men early in the day.

"If Pete hadn't gone down the ditch, for sure he would have been with Froomie.

"But all the other teams had a sniff, 'Hold on, we might be able to do something here.' And it changed the dynamic of the race totally from the night before.

"The night before it was: 'this race is over'. The next day, the other teams are thinking: 'they have a weak team, let's attack them.' That's why the race took on the complexion that it did. It was brilliant for the race."

Froome survived that stage with an outstanding defensive ride, while Kennaugh - making his Tour debut - recovered to play a huge role in the Alps this past week.

"We've long thought Pete was a very, very special talent, and it was great to see him start to perform at the top level," Brailsford said.

"He's 24, relatively young to come in and play the role we wanted him to, but you've sometimes got to give responsibility to young guys.

"It can go either way, but I think he dealt with it fantastically well and he's a bright prospect for the future."