Maglia Nera

Bartali and Coppi on the front of the Giro.
Bartali and Coppi on the front of the Giro.

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.     

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56 Replies to “Maglia Nera”

  1. 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.

  2. @Barracuda




    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” .

    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.

  3. @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.

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

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