By Gregor Brown
This year's Tour de France is the first edition ever to arrive at the seventh stage with all 198 riders still in contention.
Etixx-Quick Step Sports Director Brian Holm says that without the stress of cross-winds, traffic furniture and major crashes, it is one of the easiest Tour starts he has seen.
Fortunately, however, the race has lacked those huge pile-ups that sent cyclists home with broken bones in past editions.
Last year, the race split and crashed on day two and on day three, saw a mass crash that sent yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) flying and eventually, abandoning. Nine riders had already abandoned by this point in 2015.
"Last year was one of the hardest that I've seen and done, this year is probably one of the easiest ones," Holm said. "That crash the first day with Morkov and those guys was nasty, but until now, that's the only really bad crash we had.
"Let's say that it's one of the better Tours, one of the easiest I've seen. Last year was hard starting in Holland and the stress of the cross-winds. No one is going to complain about it this year, maybe just the TV viewers, but that's no problem."
Some viewers called the long-haul stages to Angers and Limoges boring, but they were stages specifically for sprinters.
"I suppose there are normally 10 odd at home by now!" Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) said. "It's also the layout of the route, this year with obvious sprint stages and then obvious hard days, it makes it good for the race with as far as guys not trying to do a bit of everything."
"Even though they moan about it, when you have a clear sprinters' stage, the sprint teams will control it," Team Sky Principal Sir David Brailsford added. "And then we had an early GC day like yesterday that sorts things out, that calms everyone down.
"Last year, we had the cobbles, the Mur du Huy. Riders were thinking that they had to get through it, stay on their bikes, not lose time, and that adds a bit more intensity to the racing. That creates apprehension in the stages beforehand, too."
This year, for the first time since 2013, the race began on home roads in Normandy. In 2014, it set off from Yorkshire and in 2015 with a trip south from the Netherlands and Belgium.
"I've never seen 198 riders this far into the race," BMC Racing Team Manager Jim Ochowicz explained.
"It's the different roads, or better roads. We are not going through lot of towns with a bunch of speed bumps and road furniture this year. The roads are better."
His rider, Tejay van Garderen disagreed. He said, "have you've seen some of the roads that we've been riding on this year? They haven't been all that wide."
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"It's been that and some luck, to be honest, because there were some crazy finals with some crazy obstacles on the road," added Tony Martin (Etixx–Quick Step), who abandoned last year after stage six due to a crash. "Sometimes you just have to be lucky.
"In England, the crowds were amazing, but also super dangerous. Selfie sticks, bikes, wheelchairs, dogs, kids, it was a big mess."
"I don't think the fans play a role in the crashes, but the trend of people taking photographs and selfies with their backs to the race," continued Brailsford.
"If everyone is narrowing the road and then taking a step back when the races comes, but leave their prams, leave their dogs, leave their stools they were standing on... They are all standing further in to get a picture and moving back, leaving things behind. It's not the crowds per se, but what the crowds do."
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