By Graham Healy
Amongst the many defunct classifications from the Grand Tours is the maglia nera of the Giro d’Italia. The short-lived competition saw the last rider on general classification at the Italian tour being awarded a black jersey.
However, such were the farcical situations that arose in the fight to win the jersey that the competition was abandoned after just six years.
The jersey was introduced in 1946 and Luigi Malabrocca was the first rider to win. finishing four hours behind the winner Gino Bartali.
Malabrocca soon realised that being in last place had its advantages as he was given money in villages he passed through as well as getting free accommodation at stage ends. He also developed a big fan base.
The rider from Tortona returned in 1947, determined to win black again. His margin of victory was even bigger as he finished six hours behind Fausto Coppi that year. Malabrocca ensured his victory that year by deliberately puncturing his tyres and frequenting bars en route.
He tried again in 1949 to win the black jersey, but he had a serious challenger. The battle between Sante Carolo and Malabrocca that year turned out to be epic.
Amongst their tactics were stopping for long lunches and hiding in barns. On one particular stage, Malabrocca hid in a water tank on a farm. When the farmer found him, he understandably asked Malabrocca what he was doing there. “Riding the Giro,” the cyclist responded. “In my water tank?” asked the astonished farmer.
On the final stage to Milan, Malabrocca was comfortably in last place. He was well to the fore at the start of the stage, even taking a prime.
However, he somehow disappeared from the rest of the bunch and ended up in a bar, getting food and drink from the bar’s patrons. However, he left it too late to arrive at the finish and was deemed to be outside the time limit. Victory instead went to Carolo.
Despite his reputation for finishing last though, Malabrocca had a pretty impressive career. He raced until 1958, taking victories in races such as Paris-Nantes, Coppa Agostoni and the Tour of Croatia and Slovenia.
The final black jersey was awarded in 1951, by which time many of the riders had protested about the competition as they felt it made a mockery of the sport. That last jersey was won by Giovanni Pinarello who the following year would go on to establish the very successful bicycle manufacturers.