DFL - Glory for everyone
Giuseppe Ticozzelli isn’t a cycling household name. In fact Ticozzelli was primarily a football player for the soccer team Casale but in 1926 decided to ride the Giro d'Italia as an independent, wearing his football team jersey as he didn't have a cycling one. It would be his first and last edition of the Giro d’Italia completing only three stages. His contribution to the race led to the birth of an enigmatic cycling hero and the Maglia Nera (Black Jersey). In later editions of the Giro the riders chose black to symbolise last place because it was the colour of the football jersey worn by Ticozzelli who had succumbed to the tortures of the Giro so rapidly.
However it wasn't until 1946 that it was decided to award a prize to the last placed rider on that year's Giro d'Italia. The Maglia Nera was the symbolic prize and it created many a fierce struggle. Particularly of note were the battles between Sante Carollo and Luigi Malabrocca. The prize wasn't just the domain of the crafty though. It also came to symbolise fortitude in the face of adversity. In 1948 the honour was awarded to the Tuscan Aldo Bini who stubbornly continued the race until the end despite a broken right hand suffered in a mass crash, and the suffering that, especially in the mountain stages, forced him to get off the bike and push uphill. The special ability of the black jersey was, in addition to not being "discovered", to reach the finish directly within the maximum time.
The 1946 edition of the Giro D’Italia was Luigi Malabrocca’s first. A young competitor with an exceptional ability, he would capture the minds of those passionate about cycling, but who embodied the “new” attitude to Italy’s belief, he worked hard, at losing. He would go on to place last in the general classification, nearly four hours after race winner Gino Bartali. The Giro organisers that year awarded the first Maglia Nera since di Cozzelli bore its birth in 1926. Italians had a new hero, albeit in an unorthodox manner.
Coming last had its advantages; prize money would be given by villagers as well as a free room for the evening along with food and drink as an act of solidarity towards the rider. When Malabrocca returned in 1947 he had acquired a fan base, people on the streets would hold banners “long live last place” as well asking “who’s first?” swiftly followed by “who is last?” Unsurprisingly, Malabrocca would finish last, again. His time nearly six hours after his friend and training partner, Fausto Coppi had won the general classification.
If Bartali had Coppi, Malabrocca had Carolo.
The 1949 edition of the Giro may be best remembered for the famous mountain victory by Fausto Coppi at the Cuneo-Pinerolo stage, but for the Giro fans at the time, tongues would wag about the rivalry between Malabrocca and Carolo, each determined to finish last.
Sante Carolo was a builder by profession, a cyclist by passion. In a last minute call, he was asked to replace Fiorenzo Magni who had gone down with a stomach infection and couldn’t compete. As fate would have it though, Carolo was not a good cyclist, if anything, his lack of skill and speed was due to being a poor athlete. However, knowing this, Carolo realised that he couldn’t compete with the other riders and instead focused his attention on winning the prestigious Maglia Nera.
Stories of cycling procrastination would be hard to match if you could try. Stopping for leisurely lunches and hiding was a common tactic used by both riders; Malabrocca taking it to levels like no other. On one stage he decided to hide in a farmer’s water tank, when questioned on what he was doing, Malabrocca replied “Riding the Giro!”, the farmer, astonished, remarked “In my water tank?”.
The rivalry had intensified as the winner of the black jersey was changing hands frequently. Everything was playing into the hands of Malabrocca, whose tricks had given him a huge advantage leading into the final stage, the Maglia Nera would be his for the third time.
To the amazement of many, Malabrocca started the final day quickly. He claimed a cash prize for coming first in one of the four chronometer events, after which he literally disappeared. The race continued, Malabrocca was still nowhere to be seen. His detour landed him in a bar, where he was treated to food and drink, a local villager offering to show him his fishing gear, which Malabrocca duly obliged to view, he wasn’t in a rush.
The Giro would be won by Fausto Coppi, Bartali a close second. However, it would be Sante Carolo, and not Malabrocca who would claim the coveted Maglia Nera. In a twist of cruel fate, Malabrocca did nothing wrong. The tactic to delay his finish within the regulations had worked; arriving over two and half hours after the stage winner, Malabrocca naturally thought he had done enough to secure his hat trick of last places in the Giro. The course judges however had enough. Fed up of all the drama, and theatrics, they packed up and left. They would give Malabrocca the peloton race time, making his overall average race classification penultimate place.
Luigi Malabrocca would leave road cycling after the 1949 Giro. In his own right he would become a world cyclo-cross champion, twice. But Malabrocca had a left a lasting legacy, the Giro needed a cult hero, and Malabrocca was the man to fill those shoes.
Did you notice the last winner? Yes, Giovanni Pinarello was the last winner of the Maglia Nera. He used the Black Jersey prize money to start his frame building shop which went on to equip several winners of the vastly more coveted Maglia Rosa.
Competition plays an important part in the human psyche, the pinnacle of which is racing, culminating in the crowning of one glorious winner. However just as there must be a winner, there also must be someone who, on looking round, sees no-one. Only a few us will experience the top step but coming dead fucking last (DFL) is a position that is within the grasp of us all.
DFL Capsule Collection
In honour of the battle for last place, we have launched our DFL collection, consisting of race jersey, classic cap and cotton t-shirt. Inspiration is taken from vintage "logo explosion" Italian race kit of the past with the design containing subtle references to the Maglia Nera history.