The Tour de France works in stages. Each day there is a different stage last usually around five or six hours. The bikers race from the starting line to the finish line as quick as possible. They're more competing against the clock than they are each other. It's not a race to be first to the finish line as one might expect. So basically each team competes with each other team's time. So if a team has a horrible stage because of an accident or something it's not uncommon to get behind by say six whole minutes. That amount of time is sometimes hard to make up, but that's what makes it the Tour de France. This ain't your grandma's bike race people.
This year however they instituted a new rule which basically says that no matter how well you ride a certain stage you're only allowed to gain so much time against your opponents. For example if I race a stage in 4 hours and 15 minutes, and another of my opponents finishes in 4 hours and 30 minutes I would (in the past) gain 15 minutes on that opponent. The new rule states that depending on your finish place on the stage you may only gain a certain amount of time against your opponents. I'm having problems finding the exact numbers but it appears to be either 20, 30, or 40 seconds depending the finishing positions.
I'm not a big sports fan, but that seems like a REALLY stupid idea to me. Can you imagine and NBA game where the L.A. Lakers weren't allowed to go into halftime more than five points ahead of the other team? Or perhaps they can limit the number of goals you're allowed to score per period in hockey. The rule exists to allow some of the weaker teams to compete with the big boys. I think that if you want to compete with the big boys, then you should play straight. 15 minutes is only fair if that's how much better I did that the other guy. None of this 20 second crap!