Ben KerstenNew Zealand’s Simon van Velthooven has challenged Burnie to change the date of its carnival. Ben Kersten wants Burnie to follow Latrobe’s example.

TWO of the carnivals series’ top drawcards have applauded Latrobe for changing from its historic time slot and challenged Burnie to do the same.

Trans-Tasman cycling rivals Ben Kersten and Simon van Velthooven said they could not have made Latrobe had it been on Boxing Day and commended the event committee for breaking with 115 years of tradition by moving to December 27.

The move resulted in more competitors and spectators, with the temporary car park opposite the Latrobe Oval packed by mid-afternoon on Tuesday.

International commitments have since caused Olympic hopeful van Velthooven to leave Tasmania and although Kersten remains to contest today’s under-strength Burnie Wheel he agreed the event needed to follow its Bass Highway cousin’s example.

An increasingly busy national cycling calendar is seeing a lot of riders opting to contest Geelong’s Bay Criterium series or prepare for the road nationals and Tour Down Under rather than ride the 125th Burnie Carnival, which many of them would like to see moved back to New Year’s Eve.

”At the moment, Burnie is losing 90 per cent of cyclists,” said Kersten, a 30-year-old former Commonwealth Games champion, world championship runner-up and long-time carnivals competitor from New South Wales.

”Hold it the night before and they would probably only lose 30 per cent.

”I think a New Year’s Eve morning event would work.

”Having it on New Year’s Day means you cannot go out and enjoy New Year’s Eve, you lose your New Year’s Day and you cannot do the Bay Crits. If they had it on New Year’s Eve you could do all three.”

Van Velthooven, a 23-year-old from Palmerston North who rides for the Legana-based Lawson Homes team, left Tasmania after sweeping the keirins in Latrobe, Launceston and Devonport to prepare for the Beijing world cup, but agreed with Kersten’s solution to Burnie’s dilemma.

”Now that Latrobe have changed their date, there is no reason why we cannot race every day through the week and make Burnie a big New Year’s Eve celebration,” he said.

”We’d race all day and in the evening have a shower, watch the fireworks, make it a social event and fly out the next day.”

Van Velthooven’s suggestion would see a program that has traditionally taken a week condensed into five days with Latrobe on December 27, Launceston on the 28th, Devonport on the 29th and 30th and Burnie on the 31st.

”It’s really good that Latrobe changed their date and it was also nice having a later in the afternoon program,” the 2009 Launceston Wheel winner said.

”Christmas Day is important, you only get so many in your life, so I was excited when they changed the day because it meant I could come.”

Kersten agreed: “I would not have gone to Latrobe had it been on Boxing Day.”

”It’s fantastic to keep the whole heritage thing because that’s what the carnivals are all about but times are changing and they are going to lose out. No one likes losing their Christmas.”

The absence of Luke Ockerby from Burnie today further demonstrates the need for a date change.

At 19, Ockerby has already contested six carnivals campaigns, won the Devonport Wheel in 2008 and was the only home-state scratchman this year, but his decision to head to Melbourne rather than the 30 kilometre trip to West Park from his Ulverstone home shows the problem facing organisers.

”It’s not an ideal situation for Burnie but they could look at bringing it back a day,” the reigning Australian Wheel and Launceston Classic champion, who came second in last year’s Burnie Wheel, said.

Despite their concerns, the scratchmen felt the carnivals retained a vital place in national and international cycling.

”I love coming here,” said van Velthooven, a shoo-in to contest the keirin for New Zealand at the London Olympics this year after collecting three titles at the Oceania track titles in Invercargill last month.

”You get a few pedal revolutions when everyone else is eating Christmas cake. It’s a good way to keep in condition and get a bit of variation in your career.”

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