Nick Westby: Team Sky legacy is a pioneering one of inclusion but controversy as cycling faces uncertain future

Sky arrived in professional road cycling in 2010 vowing to win the Tour de France in five years and to be whiter than white in the process.

Tour de France legacy: Britain's Geraint Thomas, left, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey and Britain's Chris Froome hold a glass of Champagne during the 21st and last stage of the 105th edition of the Tour de France. (Marco Bertorello, Pool via AP)

They will leave it at the end of next year having achieved much more than they set out to, but with their mission statement having become a noose around their necks as sustained success bred increased scepticism in a sport forever haunted by controversy.

But what a ride it has been.

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What an historic period for British cycling, with Sky at the vanguard of the sport’s evolution from the roadside to the mainstream.

Ben Swift: Rotherham rider was with Sky from the outset.

The news on Wednesday morning that the broadcasting company is to end its decade-long backing of Britain’s – and the world’s – premier road team sent shockwaves across the sport.

From the professional teams that have trailed in their wake to the amateur riders who have benefited from the vast array of amateur SkyRides over the years that was part of their drive to get people cycling.

At a professional level, their rivals will, no doubt, breathe a sigh of relief. For all the innovations Sky brought, they did so with financial backing that no rival team could match.

A new sponsor may well ride to the rescue but as other long-standing teams like QuickStep and BMC have discovered, the world is not awash with companies wanting to throw money at cycling.

Sky team manager Sir Dave Brailsford. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Furthermore, Sky’s story proves that while you can achieve groundbreaking success, it does come at a price.

For the record, Sky’s list of accomplishments is second to none this decade:

322 race victories including 52 stage races and 25 one-day races.

Eight Grand Tour wins including six Tours de France by three different British riders – Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas – after none had done so previously

Froome also won La Vuelta Espana and Giro d’Italia, becoming the first rider in more than 30 years to hold all three Grand Tour winners’ jerseys at the same time.

But, in later years, Froome’s legacy has been tainted, as has Wiggins and that of Team Sky.

Froome was the subject of an anti-doping case after his La Vuelta win last year, though it was dropped by the UCI a week before the start of this year’s Tour.

The UK Anti-Doping Agency conducted a 14-month investigation into a ‘mystery package’ delivered to then team doctor Richard Freeman on the final day of the Criterium du Dauphine – won by Wiggins – in 2011.

A Parliamentary committee which held hearings into the case found the team had crossed an ‘ethical line’ by using the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone to prepare for major races.

The substance is banned in competition but legal out of it. Wiggins denied that any drug had been used without medical need and hit out at the process, saying it was “so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts”.

Team Sky also have plenty of detractors within cycling for tactics which many believe stifle racing and the size of their budget which last year was believed to be £37m.

There is a flip side. Having a British team at the front of the peloton has broadened the horizons of British cyclists.

One rider to have benefited is Rotherham’s Ben Swift, who was with Sky from the outset in 2010, rode in support of Wiggins at the following year’s Tour de France, and has returned for 2019.

“The news came as a bit of a shock,” he told The Yorkshire Post from Sky’s training camp in Mallorca. “But at the same time you’ve got to look at the impact they’ve had, the races they’ve won, the faith they have shown in us. They leave a huge legacy.

“Sky have proven to be one of the best teams, not just in cycling, but in world sport, and not just for what they have done in the Grand Tours. Just look at what they have achieved in Britain alone, with the SkyRides.

“This is not new to cycling. This happens in our sport.”

Maybe so, but it leaves the futures of Swift, Froome, Thomas and British involvement at the very top of road racing, uncertain.