Bartali and Coppi on the front of the Giro.

Maglia Nera

Maglia Nera

by / / 56 posts

On our trip to Paris, my wife and I, in need of culture, rode the Vélib bikes to Cycles Laurent. This was our first French bike shop visit and excitement was high as we navigated our helmetless headed way through the city traffic. 

The shop is a classic; it’s crammed with bikes and clothes. There is no room to move. My wife immediately dove into the sales bin and came up smiling with a Pinarello maglia nera jersey in her size. What is the maglia nera jersey? It’s the lantern rouge of the Giro. For a brief period it was an officially awarded  jersey, which led to riders hiding in bars and behind hedges to finish last. Giovanni Pinarello was awarded it in 1951 and here it was reissued. Maybe Giovanni was hiding in bars or maybe he was just hanging on like grim death on every stage and barely made it to Milan. Giovanni Pinarello was the last official owner of the jersey. Riders and fans alike disapproved of a contest for last place and 1951 was the final year of the maglia nera. Since then, riders don’t try to finish last but they do try to finish.

When asked by Cycle Sport magazine what he would like his epitaph to be, he said “Here lies Eros Poli, famous for being tall and coming last in the Giro d’Italia”. -wikipedia

 This is a man who won an Olympic gold medal, a most incredible climber’s stage in the Tour de France, and an amateur TTT world championship. 

Unless one is actively hiding in bars and riding with a calculator to always finish within thirty seconds of each days time limit, finishing last means one is barely finishing each mountain stage, tailed off the grupetto, fighting to beat the time limit, on more than a few days. 

When is finishing the Giro last not an embarrassment? I would say every time. There is a select subset of humans that could ride the Giro at the speeds it is ridden and finish it. Nearly every day a rider climbs into the team car, most likely in tears, exhausted, ruined, crushed. Their number comes off their jersey, it is reported to the commissar and that rider cannot start the next day. But there also must always be a rider who just barely makes it to the finish during those mountain stages, in tears, exhausted, crushed and is back out there the next day. To finish in Milan, even in last place must be infinitely better than not finishing. 

Finishing any event last is always better than not finishing.

If I was awarded that jersey, I’d wear that into every bar and restaurant for the rest of my natural life. That’s right fools, I finished the Giro, d’Italia, we covered 3500 km at an average of 37 km per hour. I’ll take my free vino rosso right over there, grazie.     

// Nostalgia

  1. @Rob – oh no; a Velominati thread off point! Squirrel!!!! No worries – I agree, the jersey find is a beaut and beers all around is even better.

  2. @Gianni

    @Nate

    @Rob The lanterne rouge & maglia nera are stories of survival and triumph over suffering “” rather than conquest. They resonate because us mere mortals can actually relate to them.

    I would relate. I’d be in the grupetto everyday, fighting for the time cut. And cursing those wee climbers for making the time cut so early.

    Talking of which see http://www.tinkoffsaxo.com/news/sorensen-completed-giro-stage-concussion/

  3. @unversio I’m with ya 100% on this… I was popped off the line on an endurance mtn bike race I had no business going forward with last year and knew immediately the only person I was racing was myself. Despite riding alone for a long time and certain I was last, DNF was not an option. The handful of folks still there when I finished, my buddy who’d podium’d (obviously waited a long time for me), a couple other racers (turned out were waiting for their bud) and the race organizers taking everything down noted that yep, one last racer still to come in. And he did. One cool SOB from my perspective. DNF for no good reason? No way. In a strange way these are personal victories for which a cyclist can ride. Of course, in the pro’s getting to the finish of a grand tour, even if last, probably means $$$ for completing. But for those of us that pay to race ?? BTW: The last place finisher in The Skyway Epic (AL’s Leadville) last week was rewarded w/ a two night stay at a sweet Carolina Mtn Bike resort. My buddy came in penultimate. Rats, BUT, he enjoyed the post race cold one as much as anyone else that day. Cheers

  4. There is one fate almost as bad as the painful DNF:

    Toiling for three hours risking life and limb in a Masters race, finishing top 6, and finding out when you get home and look at the online results that the transponder didn’t work (you know, the one they charge you $10 for). No “official result”, my friend.  This happened 3 weeks in a row last season.

    Did I never really race? Did I not really suffer? If DNF is hell, transponder failure must be purgatory.

  5. @fignons barber Fuck!

  6. @Buck Rogers

    LOVED the Cycles Laurent shop. I bought my gilet for Paris-Roubaix there and still have it. Wonderful shop but I was bummed that I could not buy a Belgian hairnet there. I asked if they had one and they looked at me like every French person does when I try to speak French to them in France: Down there very long noses, and then said, “You must be an American.”

    Uhhhhg. The ultimate insult in France!

    Hey Buck – it’s an insult everywhere.

  7. @ChrisO yup, that’s what I tried to say but left the “t” off the end of “not”

  8. @Gianni

    @seemunkee

    Thanks for the history lesson and the recommendation for Cycles Laurent. I’m heading to Paris in a couple of weeks and was going to ask if there was a shop I should check out.

    There must be other great shops but this one is pretty great, old school, not a giant showroom, lots of bike stuff, everywhere.

    I’ve looked around as I have to be there a lot for work and surprisingly not much in the first place, and Laurent’s seems the best, at least by the road cycling cool factor.  There’s a Giant showroom shop on Blvd Henri V toward the river from Bastille but doubt that’s what you’d be looking for.  Not saying there aren’t others but they aren’t obvious (to an American).

  9. In this years Giro, Svein Tuft (the first Pink Jersey holder of the race) is currently in last, and I believe he finished last years TdF in last too. 

    In-fact, Orica-Greenedge have had a lot of their team pull out from illness & injury. I guess all that effort of riding at the front to keep the Pink jersey really takes a toll. 

  10. @xyxax

    @Gianni

    @seemunkee

    Thanks for the history lesson and the recommendation for Cycles Laurent. I’m heading to Paris in a couple of weeks and was going to ask if there was a shop I should check out.

    There must be other great shops but this one is pretty great, old school, not a giant showroom, lots of bike stuff, everywhere.

    I’ve looked around as I have to be there a lot for work and surprisingly not much in the first place, and Laurent’s seems the best, at least by the road cycling cool factor. There’s a Giant showroom shop on Blvd Henri V toward the river from Bastille but doubt that’s what you’d be looking for. Not saying there aren’t others but they aren’t obvious (to an American).

    Ahhh, the elusive “3rd place” .

    http://www.ridemedia.com.au/ride-features/the-bike-shop-a-valuable-space-in-society/

    A piece from the above article :-

    Meanwhile our salesman bolts a new bike rack onto a Prius and thinks about his commission while a dentist holds a colour-matched comfort bike with a foot-and-a-half of head tube and a stem pointing skywards. He’s opted for the compact crank and the bundle deal with a helmet, shoes and a pump. All from a company which, despite what its name suggests, makes a killing selling bikes with a surprisingly generalised “comfort endurance” label.

    Meanwhile across town there’s The Shop, the place where bike riders go. There’s not a big car park or a window with a picture of a triathlete. The rack is full, not of bikes for sale, but of customers’ bikes resting while their riders do the same. This is the shop where they don’t sell bikes that come in a box. It’s where people can get what they need but the staff won’t try to talk you into buying something you don’t want. It’s where the espresso machine sees more action than the cash register. It’s where a quick glance behind the workshop – and, often, at the seats in front of it – reveals the bikes and bodies which appear in the chain stores only through the magazines and posters.

    It’s here that those riders, the ones from the magazines and posters, sip coffee and talk prize money. They watch as an allen key turns in hand; in these circles it carries the same reputation as the donated jerseys on the wall. Next to them sit riders who once gazed at their pictures in awe, but here the workbench is the great leveller. Once they get on the road they’d never be able to talk without being dropped but in front of the bike stand, watching a master at work, they can share their passion. ”

    A good read and an article that sums up the “3rd Place”

  11. @Mikael Liddy Ah, sorry, I wasn’t trying to be pedantic – I actually didn’t register the ‘no’ at all, otherwise it would have been clear it was just a typo, or an Italianesque version.

    I sometimes find myself speaking mangled English to our team manager from Portugal. I get used to the odd constructions he uses and adopt them when I’m trying to explain or reply to him – I don’t know if it makes things clearer to say We not gone ride Friday, Saturday better, but it certainly saves on prepositions.

  12. @andrew

    Michael Matthews losing the pink one day, only to crash on the next but still haul himself painfully over the line last along with a vomiting team-mate, all the time thinking of a rest day and just one more shot at repaying his team.

    And then riding the day after the rest day and getting is sore and broken arse onto the podium!!! That was his last hurrah though. He had to retire after that effort. Chapeau in deed.

  13. Great stuff! Anyone who finisdes a Grand Tour deserves respect. No other sport comes close to making the physical and mental demands a three week tour does.

    That being said, as I read Gianni’s piece and saw that the maglia nera was retired in 1951 got me wondering if this was true. Off to my trusty library and it seems that as late as 1979 it was still being awarded and worn if not officially, but riders still wore it every day and the “winner” was in the final day line up of jersey winners.

    That 1979 Giro was a classic in many ways. As is their wont, the organizers tailor-made the course for Francesco Moser: mountains were limited and there were four time trials. This cunning plan got off to a rocky start as throughout much of the early 79 season conjunctivitis was rampant in the peloton and Moser was not immune, arriving at the start in Firenze suffering from the eye condition. As the race wore on the condition persisted and two main challengers emerged: the diminutive Guiseppe Saronni and the powerful Norwegian Knut Knudsen. On stage 16 Knudsen was going well, Saronni not so much as the maglia rosa looked like it was going onto the Norwegian’s shoulders. Then something weird happened: the Magniflex-Famcucine team car drove into Knudsen’s rear wheel bringing him down heavily. In the ensuing chaos, he remounted and was making his way through the cars in pursuit of Saronni who had attacked. Then another weird thing happened: the team cars were stopped leaving Knudsen to chase unaided. He missed the jersey and lost the race, retiring two stages later because of severe injuries sustained in the “accident.”. (Contrast Saronni’s behavior to that of Evans the other day: Evans was riding smart and hard at the front, his rivals were involved in a run-of-the-mill crash behind, albeit a large one. Saronni took clear advantage of a suspicious event of extreme rarity.

    At the other end of the race, it was a battle between Angelo Tosoni ((CBM Fast-Gaggia) and  his teammate Bruno Zanoni for the maglia nera. Tosoni wore it on the early stages but the eventual “winner” was Zanoni who finished 11′ 9″ behind his teammate. On the early part of the last stage, Zanoni was in the line up of jersey winners: Moser (cyclamen jersey/points), Contini (white jersey/young rider), Zanoni (maglia nera), Saronni (pink jersey/winner overall), Bortolotto (green jersey/mountains) and Rosola (blue jersey/regions).

    Another final weird thing about the 79 Giro was the Epilogue stage. Intended as a “reward” for the domestiques and gregari, it was a 670km (yes, at the end of the Giro, the organizers sent 48 riders on a six-hundred-and seventy-fucking-kilometers stage that counted for nothing but pride) from Milan to Rome. Sergio Santamaria won it. None of the top 10 riders contested this crazy event and few spectators turned out to watch it.

    So there you have it, Italians doing things their way in their own race. Frankly, Torriani the race director, should have been blackballed for such a crazy Giro, but he was the Felix Levitan/Christian Proudhomme of his day. You didn’t mess with Signor Torriani.

  14. “Finishing any event last is always better than not finishing.” And even more commendable is finishing In spite of  mishaps!

    Great one Gianni.

  15. @wiscot  love it! Great read and grape shot for future trivia contests.

  16. @Rob

    @wiscot love it! Great read and grape shot for future trivia contests.

    LOVE those stripes, Rob!  Get a screen shot of them just in case they happen to pass on to someone else (which I am sure will not happen!)

  17. @Buck Rogers thanks Buck, I haven’t looked this good since ’82!

    And no I don’t think I will be wearing them when we get to Trieste… I am not optimistic for the old Roo – he has a lot of work left to do and there are too many young pretty boys who can dance on the pedals.

  18. @Rob

    @Buck Rogers thanks Buck, I haven’t looked this good since ’82!

    And no I don’t think I will be wearing them when we get to Trieste… I am not optimistic for the old Roo – he has a lot of work left to do and there are too many young pretty boys who can dance on the pedals.

    We”ll know A LOT more about his chances in about 2 hours.  Gooooo Cuddles!

  19. @Barracuda

    Cool article, thanks for posting it.

  20. You know how in the US officials often say “riders out of contention may be pulled”? Well, racing in Germany two years ago, in just about any race, with three about three laps to go, everyone gets pulled except for the lead riders who have a shot at the prize list. Frequently, out of 150 starters, only 20 get to finish. They don’t even post places beyond the prize list. Made me feel better about being the slow American at the back. Just about everyone was lanterne rouge.

  21. Gianni,  here is what you need.  Real wool.

  22. @Barracuda

    @xyxax

    @Gianni

    @seemunkee

    Thanks for the history lesson and the recommendation for Cycles Laurent. I’m heading to Paris in a couple of weeks and was going to ask if there was a shop I should check out.

    There must be other great shops but this one is pretty great, old school, not a giant showroom, lots of bike stuff, everywhere.

    I’ve looked around as I have to be there a lot for work and surprisingly not much in the first place, and Laurent’s seems the best, at least by the road cycling cool factor. There’s a Giant showroom shop on Blvd Henri V toward the river from Bastille but doubt that’s what you’d be looking for. Not saying there aren’t others but they aren’t obvious (to an American).

    Ahhh, the elusive “3rd place” .

    http://www.ridemedia.com.au/ride-features/the-bike-shop-a-valuable-space-in-society/

    A piece from the above article :-

    Meanwhile our salesman bolts a new bike rack onto a Prius and thinks about his commission while a dentist holds a colour-matched comfort bike with a foot-and-a-half of head tube and a stem pointing skywards. He’s opted for the compact crank and the bundle deal with a helmet, shoes and a pump. All from a company which, despite what its name suggests, makes a killing selling bikes with a surprisingly generalised “comfort endurance” label.

    Meanwhile across town there’s The Shop, the place where bike riders go. There’s not a big car park or a window with a picture of a triathlete. The rack is full, not of bikes for sale, but of customers’ bikes resting while their riders do the same. This is the shop where they don’t sell bikes that come in a box. It’s where people can get what they need but the staff won’t try to talk you into buying something you don’t want. It’s where the espresso machine sees more action than the cash register. It’s where a quick glance behind the workshop – and, often, at the seats in front of it – reveals the bikes and bodies which appear in the chain stores only through the magazines and posters.

    It’s here that those riders, the ones from the magazines and posters, sip coffee and talk prize money. They watch as an allen key turns in hand; in these circles it carries the same reputation as the donated jerseys on the wall. Next to them sit riders who once gazed at their pictures in awe, but here the workbench is the great leveller. Once they get on the road they’d never be able to talk without being dropped but in front of the bike stand, watching a master at work, they can share their passion. ”

    A good read and an article that sums up the “3rd Place”

    Awesome stuff.  You too @gianni, these articles and the subsequent discussions are why I keep coming to this community.

  23. Rapha one from last year, sold out in days.

  24. @meursault

    Rapha one from last year, sold out in days.

    That’s surely a women’s jersey, right? If not, it’s an abomination of the real thing which was just plain black.

  25. So it would seem there’s still a prize offered, 21 bottles of spumante…

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