"Malabrocca... Malabrocca... I am not strong up the climbs, or in the history of cycling," said Oscar Gatto at the end of the 90th Giro d'Italia to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The 22 year-old Gerolsteiner rider had just finished the three week Italian tour 141st, three hours, 41 minutes and 39 seconds behind winner Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and was awarded the Maglia Nera ('black jersey').
There is not an actual jersey or a competition this year but is an honour nonetheless that goes to the last rider on the general classification. "Wasn't Malabrocca the Maglia Nera of the Giro?"
The black jersey came about in the 1950s and many riders would fight for the honour of finishing last. One winner was Giovanni Pinarello, who later founded the famous bicycle company based in Treviso. The jersey presentation stopped in 1979 because some had thought it was an insult.
"Everyone remembers the first and the last, the second and penultimate are remembered by only the actual riders, even if they might want to forget about it, and no one remembers the riders from third to the third to the last. For this reason I fought to arrive last," half-jokingly noted Gatto.
"I started off really bad, 152nd of 197 riders, four minutes from German [teammate Volker] Ordowski. The day after, Ordowski abandoned, I was already third from the last at 21 seconds better than Frenchman [Cyrille] Monnerais. After that point I only had two rivals, Basque Antton Luengo [Euskaltel-Euskadi] and American Aaron Olson [T-Mobile]."
Just as Monte Zoncolan helped secure the Maglia Rosa for Danilo Di Luca it helped put Gatto in Nera. "On the Zoncolan," he affirmed as the location where he won the battle. "Luengo had a mixed day, 44th at 8'27". Olson went so so, 91st at 13'55". I was 129th at 17'08", it was a triumph. From then on I managed my 'advantage.' The ultimate risk was the time trial in Verona. I did not have any references because I started first; Olson was at my back and then he caught me, so it was no longer a problem."
His time loss, at almost four hours, is near the equivalent of 150 kilometres from Di Luca. "It would be like saying that Di Luca is in Milano and I am in Genoa!" He noted that he was happy to finish the Grand Tour. "To finish the Giro is always better than abandoning. ... Thinking back, the stage to Fiorano Modenese I was in a major crisis."
Gatto does take cycling seriously and likes to win. "In the three years of under-23 racing I won 26 times, 13 in the third year; I had the most wins for an Italian. Half of them came from bunch sprints, half from small group sprints and one solo, it was the most beautiful and difficult. To be a sprinter you have to suffer and then have that final kick." He compared himself to Alessandro Petacchi. "He has 137 wins to my 0. I dream of winning a Classic in Belgium. Flanders, for example, or Paris-Roubaix, even if it is in France."
The Gatto ('cat') is still in his first year as a professional and has a lot to learn. "For now I am only a kitten, but soon I will have my day as a lion."