The Tour di Via Italia bicycle races are a treasured tradition (60 plus years) in Windsor’s original Italian community. Every year fans attend 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.
Paul Martin holds the record with five wins spread over three decades.
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.
Pietro DiPonio serves as the current race director and is continuing the tradition of building a traditional event that captures the changes of modern racing.
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.