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1905 Giro di Lombardia... By the Numbers!

It's our last Monument of the season, and a twist on the by the numbers theme...


In 1905, a new race was born. Called Milano-Milano, it occurred for the first time on November 12, and quickly became a staple of late-season Italian racing. By 1907 it was re-christened the Giro di Lombardia. Here is a photo from 1905 of the leaders.

Giro di Lombardia by the Numbers

1. Ciao, Giovanni Gerbi

Of all the people in this photo, the one we can be sure of is the eventual race winner, Giovanni Gerbi.

Gerbi was known in cycling circles as the "Red Devil," which is strange because we all know color wasn't invented until the 1940s. But he got it from a priest, and it's more flamboyant than the "Grey Devil," even if I'm 95% certain that the jersey he is wearing here is not red in any dimension. At this point he appears to belong to the Maino squad, where he would race for several years. In this photo, he is on his way to the biggest victory of his career, as we view palmares nowadays. He never finished higher than 3rd in the Giro, and rarely finished at all.  He also finished third in Milano-Sanremo in 1907, and closed his career with a victory in the 1941 edition of the Giro del Monferrato. Yes, 1941. His racing career spanned 56 years, albeit later in the Veterans classification.

And if you were wondering, was he later reincarnated as Davide Rebellin? The answer is an unequivocal yes. He appeared to have won the Giro di Lombardia again in 1907, only to get relegated for misbehavior, including drafting vehicles and paying a toll collector to lower the gate after him to slow down his rivals. Also, tacks had a habit of showing up on the road after he had passed. This truly was the golden age of cycling.

2. Race of the Fallen Leaves

It's always been a bit of a cold-weather classic (yay!), with the first 30-ish editions of Il Lombardia running in November or late October. Slowly the race shifted back to mid-October, which still produced its share of epics, even like in 2012 when, starting on September 29, 143 of 197 riders abandoned in cold, heavy rain. I don't see any evidence of snow interruptions. So there's that.

As to why so late? The race's invention is tied to the great race-maker Tullo Morgagni, a journalist, and as such onw who knew the best way to sell papers: if there was nothing to write about, invent something to write about. And since Milanese cyclist Pierino Albini had lost the Coppa del Re to Piemontese Giovanni Cuniolo, Morgagni decided the two should have a rematch. This is how you get races in November... on a whim.

3. Ciao, not Pierino Albini

The problem with Morgagni's plans is that neither Albini nor Cuniolo wound up among the twelve official finishers. Bike race invention is something of a dark art, so even when it goes horribly awry in terms of its stated purposes, you can still get a gem like Il Lombardia. It was said that the Albini-Cuniolo rematch attracted huge audiences. It just didn't really attract the participants as much as hoped.

Still, it's a glittering honor roll. Gerbi was a star at the time, thanks to his amateur exploits (and his fiendishly clever schemes). Second (and shown here, for all we know) went to Giovanni Rossignoli, who won Milano-Torino, stages of the first Giro (where he finished third overall) and others. Next was Luigi Ganna, winner of the original Giro d'Italia as well as the 1909 MSR. Fourth was Carlo Galetti, who won the next three Giri after Ganna's 1909 win. All three finished forty minutes behind Gerbi.

4. The Brains Behind Lombardia

Once again, I can't say this is Tullo Morgagni, but it might as well have been. Morgagni is basically the father of Italian cycling, in terms of race formation. The bizarre way in which the Giro di Lombardia came about didn't stop him from his next project: Milano-Sanremo. This was initially held as a two-stage event for amateurs, stopping overnight in the Acqui Terme, not far from the Passo del Turchino. But it struggled to attract interest until Morgagni suggested making it a professional race, and got his superiors at the Gazzetta dello Sport to make it happen.

Flush with his success, Morgagni came up with the idea for a tour of Italy, and went back to the Gazzetta's owner Emilio Costamagna to suggest his biggest idea yet. It helped that there was already a Tour de France as a model, and that the Corriere della Sera -- the Gazzetta's rival paper -- was attempting to get a national race going. Costamagna trusted his charge to make it happen, after the previous successes, and the rest is history.

5. Vehicular Assault

Cars were still pretty new in 1905, with the first FIAT rolling off the assembly line in 1899. But they went on to affect cycling in myriad ways, including replacing it as humanity's preferred way to get around. There's a treatise to be written here, but it's shocking how many cars there are, per rider, in this photo. It's no wonder that drafting instantly became an issue in cycling.

Welp, that's about all I can wring out of this old photo. More in the next edition of By the Numbers!

Final Classification, 1905 Milano-Milano

  • 55 starters, 12 classified finishers
  • 230.5 km Winner's average speed: 24.97 km/hr

  1. Giovanni Gerbi (Maino) 9hr 13min 52sec
  2. Giovanni Rossignoli (Bianchi) @ 40min 11sec
  3. Luigi Ganna (Rudge-Whitworth) @ 40min 46sec
  4. Carlo Galetti @ 40min 46sec
  5. Carlo Mairani @ 1hr 32min 8sec
  6. Alfredo Jacarossi (Rudge-Whitworth) @ 1hr 33min 8sec
  7. Battista Danesi (Turkheimer) s.t.
  8. Andrea Massironi (Rudge-Whitworth) @ 1hr 42min 8sec
  9. Luigi Mori @ 1hr 43min 8sec
  10. Gualtiero Farina (Bianchi) @ 1hr 46min 8sec
  11. Alfredo Tibiletti @ 2hr 40min 8sec
  12. Mario Cazzaniga (Tre Fucilli) @ ?