Joe Ciavola 4 May 1941 - 26 Nov 2008

Joe Ciavola on the far right. Image courtest of the Licorice Gallery

From todays Age, a obituary for Joe Ciavola

Licorice Gallery: interview with Joe Ciavola

The Age: Champion pedalled into record books (January 9, 2009)


4-5-1941 — 26-11-2008

Joe Ciavola, who won four Australian and 27 Victorian track titles — and who was the driving force behind the establishment of the indoor velodrome at Darebin — has died of kidney failure at the Austin Hospital. He was 67.

Joe followed his time as a top competitive cyclist as a businessman and finally as a sports administrator.

He began his competitive amateur cycling career in 1958, and the following year won the Victorian junior one mile (1600 metres) championship. In 1960 he became the 5-mile senior champion, and in 1962, as well as capturing the 10-mile Victorian championship, he won the Australian title over the same distance. In 1963, he repeated the effort and then turned professional. He represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962 and at the world professional championships in San Sebastian, Spain in 1965.

At the Perth games he sacrificed personal glory to implement the Australian team plan and stopped every break-away; he was is second position when he fell at the 200 metre post, allowing teammate Doug Adams to sweep to victory.

As a professional cyclist Joe distinguished himself as the Victorian champion over 5 miles, the Devonport Wheel Race and above all the handicap Melbourne Cup on Wheels. He competed in numerous Six Day Races in Melbourne and interstate, winning both the Melbourne Cup on Wheels and the Devonport Wheel Race from scratch. One of his greatest cycling moments was in 1966 when the world champion, Giuseppe Baghetto, chose him as his teammate for the Melbourne Six Day Race.

Joe continued racing for 10 years as a professional both in Australia and in Europe, including an extended period racing for Ignis in Italy. He was well suited to bike racing because he was physically and psychologically tough, uncompromising, and had supreme confidence in his own ability.

Versatility on the track and his reputation as a fiery competitor made him a great draw card at the velodrome.

After he retired from racing in 1973, Joe worked for Peugeot Australia before opening the Melbourne Cycling Centre at Clifton Hill. At age 46, and after 14 years in business, he sold the thriving enterprise that he had built up and turned his attention to sports promotion and administration. He also served as promoter for Cyclists International for 20 years, having joined in 1973, and was responsible for bringing out many well known overseas riders for competition in Australia. It was largely through his efforts that track cycling has survived in Victoria.

He resigned as Cyclists International vice-president in 1997 to become president of CycleSport Victoria, and it was his work with this organisation that convinced him that Melbourne needed an indoor training facility for Victorian cycling. He set about lobbying State and local government, eventually securing funding for the indoor velodrome at the Darebin International Sports Centre. When it opened in January 2006, it was officially named the Joe Ciavola Velodrome.

Joe was a life member of Cyclist International and of CycleSport Victoria. In 2003 he was awarded the Commonwealth Sports Medal, and in 2006 was inducted in the Cycling Hall of Fame.

Joe was born in Melbourne to Francesco and Giovanna Ciavola, who had arrived from Sicily when World War II began. Like many immigrants, the family was regarded as enemy aliens and subjected to discrimination and hardship — early experiences that shaped Joe's intense sense of justice and fairness. As a child he was introverted, timid and slow to speak, but he grew to be an extroverted, competent and competitive adult.

After the war, the family moved from a mixed farm at Kooweerup North to West Melbourne, where Joe attended St Mary's Primary School and then Collingwood Technical School. An apprenticeship as an electrical fitter followed.

Earlier, between the age of 9 and 15, he had a newspaper round and saved enough money to buy his first bicycle. He was first exposed to track racing when his school class was taken to events at the 1956 Olympic Game in Melbourne.

Joe began road racing with the Carnegie Cycling Club but switched to the track as he enjoyed the close competition more. In 1957, he also rode with the Brunswick and Coburg clubs — at all times enjoying the financial support of his close-knit Sicilian family and friends. In turn, when he turned professional, he contributed his share to the communal family budget.

In 1967, he met Kerry Saltmarsh, from Burnie; they married in 1972 and settled first at Montmorency and then Eltham. In 2000, he had a liver transplant and although gravely ill for a long time he never lost his drive and commitment to establishing the indoor velodrome at Darebin.

An entertaining story teller, Joe's love extended beyond family and cycling to the Kangaroos football team, good food and friends at his table.

He is survived by his wife Kerry, children Dion, Francesca and Sabastian, sisters Josie and Veronica and brother Sebastian, and many nieces and nephews. His brother Sam died in 2002.

Josie Black, OAM, is Joe Ciavola's sister.

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