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ANGERS, France (Reuters) - The latest trend for overall favorites' teams to take part in bunch sprints hoping to gain a few seconds on rivals are making stage finales dangerous, Mark Cavendish said on Monday.
Big guns, who usually fight it out in the mountains and in time trials, normally drop back near the end of the flat stages to avoid mixing with the sprinters, but a new tactic has arisen in recent years.
Riding in the front has become an obsession for the likes of Britain's Chris Froome and Spaniard Alberto Contador, even though sprinters' teams usually take the lead, but the roads are not wide enough to accommodate them.
"I think the mentality has changed a little bit. Some guys, not all GC (general classification) guys, would drop back (in the finale). Splits happened and they didn't want to be caught behind the split (in the build-up to the sprints)," Cavendish, who won a career 28th Tour de France stage, told a news conference.
The race's rule book prevents riders from being penalized by a split in the last three km.
"In the event that a rider or riders suffer a fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last three kilometers and such an incident is duly recognized, the rider or riders involved are credited with the same finishing time of the rider or riders they were with at the time of the incident," the rule says.
Some teams now want to be in front of such incidents.
"Now some riders want to actively be ahead of the split. It's not that they just don't want to be caught out, they try to be up there hoping there is a split so they can get a few seconds," said Cavendish.
Yellow jersey holder and world champion Peter Sagan, who on Sunday said the modern peloton was "crazy", believes this trend is making racing dangerous.
"For the flat stages they want to ride with sprinters for the sprint, it's very dangerous," said the Slovak, fourth in Monday's stage and used to the brutal final sprints.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris