If you’re out on Erie Street this weekend, you might just catch a glimpse of some pro cyclists as they whiz by.
The Tour di Via Italia, which attracts cyclists from across Ontario and North America, is making its return this Saturday. The race has been running in Windsor since 1958 — and in that time only been canceled about three times, organizers said, twice during to pandemic restrictions over the last two years.
While many of their regular riders have retired during the pandemic, race organizer Pete Diponio they have a good slate of new riders coming in this year as the event builds back from its COVID-19 hiatus.
“It’s one of Ontario’s and maybe Canada’s longest-standing urban criterium bike races,” Diponio said.
It’s just a real positive, high energy vibe
We think this is a transition year to get back in the game and we’ll grow from here… we’re very happy to be back.”
The event typically attracts about 200 riders. Usually held on the Sunday before Labor Day, this year organizers decided to hold it in mid-August to give a range of cyclists an opportunity to participate.
Races include an entry-level race in the morning, followed by an under-15 novice race, a mid-level race and the women’s and men’s elite and masters races in the evening.
This year former Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawk Luke Willson, who recently started competitive cycling and is also from LaSalle, will participate in the morning race.
Former European pro Mike Barry and son Ashlin will complete in the men’s pro race Saturday evening, which is also the longest race of the day at 80 kilometers.
There is also a children’s race for kids aged four to 13 at 2:30 pm, always a favorite with fans, Diponio said. While they call it a race, it’s just for fun: all participants get the thrill of riding down Erie Street in front of the crowds like the pros later in the evening.
The nearly-two kilometer route starts and ends on Erie Street, but also runs along Parent Avenue to Giles Boulevard to Howard Avenue, which means fans will see plenty of the riders.
“Some bike races are just held in the middle of nowhere, whereas because this is a race run within the city, we try to create a nice atmosphere,” said race director Nick Dwyer. “We get good crowds out, we play music all day.
“It’s just a real positive, high energy vibe.”
Dwyer offered a tip to spectators: To catch some of the action, spectators would be best to find a spot along Erie Street, but any of the corners will also offer a good view of cyclists as they make their way through the route.
If you haven’t seen professional cycling in-person before, Dwyer said you might also notice you feel a draft as the cyclists whoosh past — speeds average around 50 kilometers per hour.
There’s also plenty of municipal parking lots and great restaurants and patios in the area for people looking to come out and enjoy the day, Diponio added.
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This year the race is being held the same weekend as the St. Angela Festival, which will run Saturday and Sunday with plenty of food, musical entertainment, a street soccer tournament and an outdoor mass on Sunday evening.
“The two events together provide multiple reasons for people to be here,” Diponio said. “It’s a festival and the more merrier.”
Find information on the Tour Di Via Italia online at tourdiviaitalia.org and information about the St. Angela Festival online at stangelamerici.ca.