Cycling: 'Clean' Sky stay a step ahead of the rest

With two consecutive winners of the world's greatest cycling race, Team Sky's riders are now considered the pinnacle of the sport.

In the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the British outfit claim they have nothing to hide.

Without doubt a class ahead of his rivals, Chris Froome was a worthy winner of the 2013 race and his 4min 20sec margin of victory was the biggest of any Tour champion since the Armstrong era.

Following on from Bradley Wiggins' triumph 12 months ago, Froome's win was confirmation that Britain is -- in terms of the Tour de France -- now the leading force.

However, the utterly convincing nature of Froome's win has made it harder for sceptical onlookers to believe that the likeable Kenyan-born rider could possibly be clean.

Too often let down in the past, by Armstrong and by many other riders who were later outed as cheats, the public feel the need to be convinced that Froome and his team are clean.

In the face of such suspicion, it has been a battle for the team's principal Dave Brailsford to defend himself and his team and convince the world that they are clean.

Exasperated at such claims, and at what he has described as "the impossibility of proving a negative", Brailsford has written to UK Anti-Doping and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) offering to release details of his rider's performances for scrutiny.

He also released data relating to Froome's performances in particular to reputed French cycling coach and researcher in sports science, Frederic Grappe.

After analysis, Grappe wrote in the sports daily L'Equipe there was nothing untoward about the displays.

Froome admitted that this Tour de France, the first since the lid was lifted on the scandals of the Armstrong era, was possibly the worst of all to win.

"It's understandable given the history of the sport and whoever was going to be in this position was going to come under the same amount of scrutiny and criticism," he said.

"I've also been let down by the sport. I just hope that, by winning this year's Tour, I can help change that."

Froome, who is remarkably down to earth and polite, has won admirers -- and defenders -- among his peers.

"I don't understand why Froome is being put through such scrutiny at the moment," said France's Christophe Riblon after his stage 18 win on Alpe d'Huez.

"I don't think his team should be treated the way they are. They work hard, they have new training methods and we would be better off looking at what they're doing at that level than looking at them and being suspicious."

Having helped make Britain one of the world's leading nations in Olympic track cycling, Brailsford has overseen the emergence of Team Sky in the tough sport of road racing.

The 49-year-old Brailsford is an expert at nurturing talent but despite boasting a budget that is significantly superior to that of most of their rivals, he says his team spend their money more wisely.

"Other teams do have the finances, and our expenditure on salaries, as a percentage, is way less than most other teams," he says.

"That's because we invest in coaching, performance support, sports science and all the rest of it, to maximise what we invest in our riders.

"That's just our approach. We're a coaching based team."

There is a feeling that Sky's biggest star Froome, who also finished runner-up on the 2011 Tour of Spain, can go on from his debut triumph and dominate the Tour in the years to come.

Brailsford, however, remains cautious.

"As a team, we always race to win, we're not built around one person," he said.

"It's bit like the British track programme. We have a system whereby, if you put the talent in it, the talent will rise to the top and I don't see why that would be any different here.

"Our team won't be built around one person, but there's no doubt about it. He's one of, if not the best rider in the world right now and there's no reason to think that couldn't continue."