The following is an excerpt from the book Reading the Race.
The tactics that we see in road cycling today are quite different than they were 20 or 30 years ago. They're kinder and gentler. That's not to say that bike racing is kind and gentle. It's definitely not, but today's tactics are more polite than they were in the 1980s.
When Push Comes to Shove
In 1982, I was in a criterium in which our team missed the breakaway. I went to the front of the field and tried to pick up the pace to get the chase effort started when a rider (from a team that hadn't missed the breakaway) came alongside me, got his shoulder ahead of my shoulder, and slowly pushed me into the curb.
That brought my chase effort to a grinding halt. A teammate of mine took up the chase again, only to be physically hooked into the curb by the same rider. No one yelled. No one said a word. It was just accepted as proper technique for squelching a chase attempt. To overcome this tactic, you either had to push back or ride faster.
Another example of this kind of "old school" race tactic occurred in the final mile of a road race. Things were ramping up for the sprint. Riders were clinging to the rear wheel of their lead-out man, waiting to pounce. I was sitting on a fast sprinter's wheel in the perfect position. If I could get around him at the finish, I'd be on the podium for sure.
Suddenly, another rider slammed into my right side, pushing me out into the wind. He took over the position I was holding. I lost three positions before I was able to push someone else over and take their position. The end result? I didn't get on the podium.
Older racers know how to sneak into the pit area and get a free lap without having the requisite mechanical problem to qualify for a free lap. I won't tell you how it's done because I don't wish to corrupt your mind with bad ideas. I will also say that I've never done it. Not lately, anyway.
Another common tactic from the Dark Ages: If someone wanted to move forward through the peloton, they might put their hand on your hip and pull you backward before pushing you forward.
Legal? Not at all. Common? Yep. It wasn't necessarily loved, but it was standard protocol. In fact, aggressive and physical riding was taught by the top coaches of the day.