The Tour di Via Italia bicycle races on Sundays during the Labour Day weekend are a treasured tradition (59 years) in Windsor’s original Italian community. Every year thousands of fans flock to Erie St. and recapture some of the magic of bike racing from European homelands. The competitors, of all ages and experience levels, do not disappoint. Racers from Windsor, and all across North America propel themselves in tight groups around the 1.7 km course at astounding speeds.
Due to it’s long and storied history the TdVI is one of the best known among racers in North America. Some of Canada’s most accomplished racers like Tour de France yellow jersey holder Steve Bauer have raced the event. Gord Fraser, Alex Steida, Jocelyn Lovell and Michael Barry are all great Canadian pros that have also competed at the TdVI. Renowned Americans Frankie Andreau (9 consecutive TdFrance finishes), Robbie Ventura and Eric Heiden have all won or stood on the podium on Erie St. European greats such as Roberto Gaggioli have also climbed to the top step after the main event on erie St.
Among women racers none is more deserving of mention than Windsor’s own Kelly Ann Way. An Olympian and yellow jersey holder in her own right! While the women’s field is smaller, it is extremely hard fought and attracts some of the best in the business.
The genesis of the TdVi occurred when Gianni Sovran was inspired by a painting he saw in the old St Angela Merici Church Hall depicting the Giro d’Italia bike race. Bike racing was not at that time and would not be very popular in the mainstream for many years to come. But for Peter Girardi, Vince Muzzin, Silvio Muzzatti , Ezio Orlando and other early organizers it was well known and a part of their Italian souls. They all wanted to have a bike race like the races back home. And so it began.
The early organizers designated the 1.7 km criterium course that is still used today. Urban and flat, it is ideal for both spectators and racers.
The first race (1958) was won by Tom Liptrop of Hamilton, Ontario. Taking home the $50 top prize, winners jersey, trophy and flowers. Billy Freund, Vince Muzzin, Silvio Muzzin, Bill Olsen, Claire Young and Pete Girardi were fast behind that first winner. Keep an eye out for Pete Girardi, he still attends the event annually and looks like he wants to get in the action!!
After that hugely successful first year various Italian groups continued to put on the event in subsequent years. They were followed by the Windsor Bicycle Club who took over organizing for several years.
But for nearly three decades, until 2015, Aldo Sfalcin and a dedicated Sfalcin family continued to organize and build the race. Aldo is a two time winner of the main event and the TdVI permanent trophy is named in his honour.
Today, the race stands out for it’s longevity. It is easily one of the longest running bicycle races in N America. It is also perhaps the richest one day purse fought for by racers in the Ontario/Michigan region.
The race is possible only because it continues to enjoy generous corporate sponsorship from community minded corporate donors like the Solcz Group and many others. Of course, the assistance of the City of Windsor, Councillor Chris Holt, municipal officials AND an army of volunteers are critical to the event.
The TdVI is proud to present the 59th anniversary edition on Sept 3 2017.
Aldo Sfalcin, chairman of the Via Italia Bike Race Association, and the principal organizer along with family members for nearly 20 years, said fans today are much indebted to those who gave of their time and effort to make the annual event a reality.
Today’s Tour di via Italia is one of the best known among racing cyclists across North America.
Tour de France riders like Canada’s Steve Bauer, Gord Fraser, Alex Stieda, Jocelyn Lovell and Michael Barry all have raced on Erie Street as well as American riders Frankie Andreu, Robbie Ventura and Eric Heiden.
Local riders who have excelled in recent years on Erie Street include Daniele De Franceschi, Paul Eugeni and Elio Zanella.
Amon women who have raced on Erie Street no one is better known than Windsor’s own Kelly-Ann Way; a 1989 Olympian who, along with Denni Pedri, excelled professionally in North America as well as Europe.
The idea for the race came from his uncle, Gianni Sovran, whose inspiration came from a painting he has seen at St. Angela Merici Church Hall that depicted the famous Giro D’Italia bike race –he had brought the sport of bike racing with him to Windsor from Italy in his own baggage.
Peter Girardi, Vince Muzzin and Silvio Muzzatti decided upon the 1.7km course bounded by Erie Street, Parent Avenue, Giles Boulevard and Howard Avenue. It’s the same course that is used today in the heart of Windsor’s Italian community.
Ezio Orlando called the event The Tour of Windsor. For the first race in 1958, more than 15,000 enthusiastic fans crowded Erie Street to watch Tom Liptrop of Hamilton, ON. win the first race. He got to take home $50, the champion’s jersey, the trophy, and flowers. Runners-up were Billy Freund, Vince Muzzin, Silvio Muzzatti, Bill Olsen, Claire Young and Pete Girardi.
It is due to the spirit of these men and women and to their hard work, commitment and vision that the race has continued. Until Aldo Sfalcin, family members, and many dedicated volunteers took over, the wheels have been kept spinning in the early years by various local Italian groups as well as the former Windsor Bicycle Club.
The race has served to bring the community closer together as friends and families gather on the streets to cheer on riders who have devoted long hours of hard work in training to represent our area in the event.
It has given local businesses and organizations the opportunity to help keep the tradition of the Erie Street Bicycle Race alive and to support an event, which serves to build the community.
Excerpts taken from History of the Tour di via Italia By Alan Henderson, abridged by M. Klimek
article via OntarioCycling.org