By Gregor Brown in Milano
Germany's Markus Eichler has picked up where Giovanni Pinarello has left off by winning the Giro d'Italia's title for lowest placed rider in the general classification – this year noted by the numero nero. The 26 year-old of Team Milram successfully defended his place in the final time trial – and in fact padded out his place behind Mikhail Ignatiev who placed third on the final stage – to conclude the Italian three-week with a time of 94 hours 30 minutes and 30 seconds.
The short-lived maglia nera ('black jersey') of lowest placed classification rider made its comeback after 57 years, and in the 2008 edition it was honoured with a black back and bike number instead of a racing top. The maglia nera was awarded from 1946 to 1951; the last winner was Giovanni Pinarello, who later founded the famous bicycle company based in Treviso.
"I am happy that I made the finish; I am completely empty," Eichler revealed to Cyclingnews after finishing the final day's time trial with a time of 36'08". "I will be happy when I am home tonight. This is my first three-week tour."
Eichler took over the lead after Italy's Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott) abandoned on last Sunday's stage to Passo Fedaia. "It is nice," continued Eichler. "I am happy that I am finished, I think that I did a good job for the team."
He has received some press back home in Germany for his accomplishment. "I saw only a little bit of news on the internet, we don't get to look every day."
Unlike the jerseys and other competitions, such as fuga classification, there is no prize money offered for the numero nero.
Eichler represented the number well by climbing over the Cima Coppi of Passo di Gavia last in yesterday's stage to Tirano. "The first climb, Gavia, I went at my own speed. It was a big group and I was off the back of them by about 300 metres. I went at my own speed, the best I could do. And I think also [last] on the Mortirolo."
He had a good feeling that he would finish the stage yesterday and ride into Milan as the celebrated numero nero; however, 24 hours earlier he was not so sure. "Yesterday, I as thinking that, 'Okay, I am going to finish.' The day before I was thinking 'F**k, it is not possible.' It was up and down throughout the stage, whether or not I could finish."
A small break will follow the Giro d'Italia, during which Eichler will talk to his team about his upcoming programme.