Cycling | 2 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Black Magic – Luigi Malabrocca
It’s all about coming first these days when it comes to the Giro d’Italia, but that wasn’t always so. There was a brief period, 1946 to 1951, in the Giro d’ Italia when the last rider in GC would wear the “maglia nera” (black jersey). Interestingly, the very last rider to wear it, in 1951, was Giovanni Pinarello who went onto launch the famous bicycle brand in his name.
Luigi Malabrocca is famous in Giro history for being a two times “winner” of the black jersey, and he should have won it as well in 1949 but did not, due to a timing error on the part of the race commissioners. Luigi was last in 1946 – 04:09:34 behind winner that year Gino Bartali. He was again last in 1947 – 05:52:20 behind the Fausto Coppi.
Luigi Malabrocca wasn’t a great champion. A high-spirited personality, Malabrocca was noted for his endurance and notable ability. He was born in 1920 in Tortona, not far from Fausto Coppi, who would later become his sparring partner in junior races, and finally a friend.
In 1945, he’d married his childhood sweetheart, a nurse called Ninfa, and finished the year with at least a dozen race wins from around 30 starts with his Milanese amateur club, Azzini. It was enough to earn him a pro contract with the Welter team and a start in the 1946 Giro d’Italia.
He had won total of 138 cycling races. Only 15 of these as a professional cyclist, yet it was for his ability to loose, not to win, for which he became famous! In 1946 and 1947 Malabrocca managed to ‘win’ last place in the Giro d’Italia by using the tactics of wasting time between tappe, hiding behind hedges at the side of the road, spending as much time as possible in bars along the route, and even puncturing his own tires to slow himself down.
Malabrocca was the last man across the line on one stage in the Marche region, yet, instead of jeers, he got applause and a token of one local farmer’s symphaty – a live sheep – which he promptly sold to the chef at his team hotel. Losing could be a lucrative business, and Malobrocca hadn’t taken long to cotton on. Not only did finishing last bring prices, plaudits, and notoriety, it also meant he could ease off in the last hour of stages.
On the final stage to Milan, Malabrocca and his pal Mario Fazio went knocking on the doors to look for shelter from icy conditions. Not only were the pair ushered into one home, but they were told to tuck into polenta that was still warming on the family stove. Their stomachs groaning under the extra weight, they then flagged down a lorry and asked the driver if he wouldn’t mind dropping them off when he reached the outskirts of Milan. “Jump on behind, under the tarpaulin”, came the reply.
An hour or two later, Malabrocca had made it to Milan – last again, 280,000 lire the richer and more famous than ever thanks to a cameo alongside Coppi, Bartali, Ferdi Kubler and Louison Bobet in the film “Toto al Giro”.
In 1949 however, his tactics backfired on him when the timekeepers and judges, annoyed and fed up with waiting for him, went home before he arrived at the finishing post and awarded Malabrocca the same general timing as the main body of cyclists.
That year the ‘notorious’ ‘Maglia Nera’ went instead to his co-competitor Sante Carollo. Drafted in at the last minute by the Wilier Triestina squad, Carollo was Malabrocca’s worst nightmare – a rider who could not only eclipse his tardiness, but could do so without trying, through sheer lack of talent. Whatever Malabrocca could do, Carollo could do worse. Halfway through the race, Carollo had finally warmed to his task; he was now matching Malabrocca manoeuvre for manoeuvre.
Malabrocca had kept a few aces up his sleeve for the final stage to Monza. All that had kept him from playing them earlier was the fear of disqualification. Now, though, he rolled out his complete repertoire: the puncture, the interminable wheel change, the aperitif at a bar, the detour via one customer’s house to see his fishing equipment. He finally moseyed into Monza two and a quarter hours after Carollo; according to his cousin-cum-policeman-cum-partner in crime’s timings, the maglia near was Malabrocca once more.
There was just one, soul-destroying hitch – the timekeepers had packed up and gone home. The results sheet showed Malabrocca in 59th place, six places ahead of Carollo, and just five minutes down on the race winner. Disgusted and demoralized, Malabrocca knew that there was no point protesting. From that time on Malabrocca abandoned his rather singular corsa all’ultimo posto (race for the last place) and his love affair with the black jersey was over. And so, sure enough, was the Giro’s…
After a happy second career as a professional fisherman, then a restaurant owner, Malabrocca spent the last years of his life in Garlasco, sadly without Ninfa, who died in 1996, almost exactly 10 years before her husband.
Malabrocca died at the age of 86 in 2006: for his ultimo viaggio (last journey) his friends dressed him in the ‘Maglia Rossa’ the famous ‘Pink Shirt’ which he’d probably never even dreamed of wearing.
|Date of birth:||22 June 1920|
|Place of birth:||Tortona (Alessandria), Italia|
|Date deceased:||1 October 2006|
|Lived in:||Garlasco, Italia|
In 2008 the concept of having “black jersey” again is coming back with the exception that the last rider will wear a black number on a white background rather than a black jersey. If Luigi Malabrocca was around, naturally all bets would be off…
Malabrocca’s home burns
Last Saturday, January 13, 2007 a fire consumed the home where Luigi Malabrocca lived, in Garlasco, Italy. Burned in the fire were races relics, including trophies, race numbers, paintings, books, newspaper clippings and photos according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Malabrocca, well known for maglia nera of last position in the 1946 and 1947 Giro d’Italia, passed away October 1, 2006 at 86 years of age.
The picture below is the famous bike builder Giovanni Pinarello who won the last black jersey in 1951.
Black is beautiful! Giovanni Pinarello’s big 1951 Giro win.
The bottom picture is 22 year old, Oscar Gatto(Gerosteiner) who won the distinction in last years race. He’s the one that’s holding on to Danilo Di Luca’s saddle.
The first and the last. Oscar Gatto holding on to Danilo Di Luca’s pink. Wouldn’t he look better in black?
The black jersey was abolished … because of it’s negative connotations. What negative connotations? How can a very cool black jersey be negative? All 3 riders appear to be smiling! In it’s place a white number on a black backdrop – for the rider’s jersey and bike. What did the young Gatto have to say after he came in last? “To finish the Giro is always better than abandoning.” Classy words!
Oscar Gatto will be lining up with his Team Gerosteiner mates at Palermo for the team time trial with perhaps a twinkle in his eyes of defending his numero nero.
Forza, Maglia Nera!
Have a good and healthy season.
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