Full broadcasts of Tour de France stages have been a long time in the making. After testing the water with their other showpiece race, Paris-Roubaix, the ASO finally delivered at this year's edition of the Grand Tour.
Showing the whole stage from start to finish would be a rare opportunity for fans to watch the often chaotic forming of the breakaway, a part of the race they are usually consigned to following social media or reading a race report to discover what actually happened. However, the aggressive racing at the start has not materialised just yet with most of the breakaways forming within the first kilometre – one has even gone clear in less than 300 metres.
As the race reaches the end of the first week and the major mountain tests come thicker and faster, Dimension Data's Bernhard Eisel is confident that the competition for places in the breakaway will go the same way as the temperatures around the race.
"We have long stages, really long stages. It's definitely going to change in the second and third week," Eisel said after the stage. "We will see a different day tomorrow. I think that we will see people throwing everything they've got at tomorrow because it's a big day and [the day] after again. They're the only days where the jersey can really change for a long time, when the long breakaway goes."
The long days – all but two of the stages thus far have been over 200 kilometres – and high heat have played a factor in riders not wishing to put themselves up the road with little protection from the elements. With so many sprinters in the race and plenty of teams interested in keeping it together, the bunch finishes have seemed inevitable. There are still over two weeks to run until the final stage in Paris, so there is also an element of business as usual in terms of first-week racing, and Eisel commended the efforts of his fellow cyclists to be willing to have a punt.
"It's always like this in the first week," commented Eisel. "Last year we saw that nobody even wanted to go in the breakaway, so we almost tried to put someone into it. Everybody who went out there in the last days should get double prize money for the intermediate sprint because it's courageous going out there in 36 degrees, especially Guillaume Van Keirsbulck on his own. Chapeau. We need those guys in the break. They make the race a bit more interesting and make it a bit harder in the final.
"If there had been one or two more guys today then it could have been a different scenario."
Dimension Data are among the teams interested in keeping the breakaway at close quarters. Stage 7 once again ended in a bunch sprint with Marcel Kittel edging Eisel's teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. The team was dealt a major blow when they lost Mark Cavendish to a crash on stage 4, but they have picked up the pieces and learned from earlier errors to get ever closer to the stage win.
"It worked today, because yesterday we ran so short that [today] we had to take a few more risks and if you come too late then we come too late, but don't come too early like we did yesterday. I think we came pretty well out of it but it didn't quite happen."
Saturday's stage to Station des Rousses will be a different kettle of fish, with many picking it as a good stage for a breakaway, and full stage broadcasting could come into its own after a week of racing.
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