Graeme, Zach and Matt Gilmore at yesterday’s Burnie Carnival . . . the Gilmore family, representing the Burnie Wheel’s most successful dynasty, believes the once blue ribbon event is now a shadow of its heyday. Picture: WILL SWANTHE Burnie Wheel’s most successful dynasty has labelled this year’s event an embarrassment to its 95-year history.
Nanjing Night Net

Launceston’s Gilmore family represents three generations of Burnie Carnival winners but said yesterday’s West Park showpiece was a shadow of the event’s heyday.

Graeme Gilmore won the Burnie Wheel in 1964, his sons Matt and Luke triumphed in 1992 and 1996 respectively and yesterday Matt’s 12-year-old son Zach won the under-15 wheelrace.

“It used to be so heavily contested but now is totally devalued,” Matt Gilmore, 39, who also finished second three times, said.

“In dad’s time only the winner of the heat went through to the final and there were 16 or 17 heats.”

In contrast to those times, last night just three heats were required with the first seven progressing into the final for a shot at $10,000 in prizemoney.

The honour board of the Burnie Wheel, which dates back to 1917, is a who’s who of Australian cycling featuring names like Sid Patterson, Danny Clark, Michael Grenda, Neil Stephens, Stephen Pate, Graeme Brown and Mark Jamieson, but yesterday’s event featured just three riders beginning off marks less than 75 metres.

“To have three heats is a bit of a kick in the teeth for former winners,” Gilmore said.

“History is worth nothing unless you continue to conduct the race at an acceptable level. It’s an insult to the likes of Sid Patterson, Danny Clark and my dad to think that it’s come to this.”

The women’s wheel was even more short-staffed with a straight-out final featuring just 11 riders fighting for the $5000 prizemoney.

Graeme Gilmore agreed with his son. “It is a bit diminished,” he said. “I know you cannot turn the clock back but we had to win the heat to make the final, now you can come seventh.”

The dearth of elite cyclists has been caused by increasing competition from national and international events, notably Geelong’s Bay Criteriums, adding further weight to the argument that Burnie Carnival organisers need to consider changing the event’s traditional date to New Year’s Eve.

The Latrobe Carnival switched from Boxing Day for the first time in 115 years last week and was rewarded in numbers of both competitors and spectators.

“There is a lot of history but they have to change with the times,” Graeme Gilmore said.

“Latrobe and Launceston have done that and Devonport has restructured itself and I think the best thing for Burnie would be to be on New Year’s Eve because the traditional date now has been taken over by national commitments.

“I think they are bumping their head against a wall if they think they can maintain New Year’s Day and still expect classy bike riders.

“It’s OK to maintain the history but you’ve got to be flexible, so why not move to New Year’s Eve and give the top riders the chance to go to the Bay Crits?

“Our family love the Burnie Carnival and want to see it prosper but if it continues like this it will die.”

Having watched both his father and son compete at Burnie, Matt Gilmore, a madison world champion, Olympic silver medallist and now national coach, said he would hate to see the event die off.

In his former role as Tasmanian Institute of Sport cycling coach he would bring the state’s best young riders to the series and said it was priceless to their development.

“I’m not anti-carnival, far from it, I’ve grown up with the Burnie Carnival, used to love it as a rider and more recently as a coach,” he said.

“There’s no better breeding ground for young riders but something has got to change.

“Burnie has to move. Hats off to Latrobe, they’ve been prepared to tackle the problem and had a great carnival. If everybody else is prepared to do something, it’s time Burnie woke up and smelt the roses or if not, do what was suggested in The Examiner today and make it just an athletic carnival.

“Full respect to the guys here but at the same time they don’t want to win a wheelrace knowing all the best riders are at the Bay Crits.”

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