In a tight field of about 150 riders in the Tour of Letterkenny in 1982, I was threading the field like Bobby Phillips when the rider to my right suddenly edged to the left as I was coming into the gap. The move pushed me to my left, so my handlebars hooked inside the bars of the next rider.
We were in the pack, near the front, doing almost 30 miles per hour.
I eased up on the pedals, put my hands on the brake levers and just imagined feathering them lightly. The rider on my left, of Vietnamese extraction, was foaming with anxious profanity and syllables I could not understand. Fortunately, he didn't try to yank away, just let me drift back and lean on the rider to the right, forcing the gap back open.
Everybody be cool, nobody gets hurt.
Having untangled the puzzle I could now notice another rider on my left flank, yelling at me.
"Why don't you get out of this race! You don't belong here!"
I didn't bother to point out that he was yelling this from behind me. So he had a Mengoni jersey, so what? If I was really so bad, we would be having this discussion in a bloody heap a half mile back.
I worked my way to the left and attacked. Once I was off the front I could feel how fast the pack had actually been moving, because I was trying to cleave the wind alone, and stay away from them. I gave it up and dropped back, merging with the field about a quarter of the way back from the front. I wasn't out to push it that day. My sights were on the district road race in a couple of weeks. I just wanted a race pace ride.
The heckling resumed. What are you guys, bored? I listened to it until the pace picked up for the final sprint, which none of us contested, even the big shot in the Mengoni jersey. Maybe his goal for the day was just to work on his trash talking.
He was right about one thing. I didn't belong there. I didn't care enough who won. It wasn't worth the risk and the aggravation just to ride with a bunch of hotheads at a faster than enjoyable pace.
Commuting by bike, I get to compete daily with fast foes, some of them very aggressive. Yet I feel safer than I ever did in a tight racing field with a bunch of guys who think they know how to handle a bike.
It makes more sense to me to use my energy on something practical rather than pursue the least productive form of cycling, racing. I see greater benefits while remaining just as anonymous as field-filler in a bike race. I win every time I get where I'm going.