Mountain biking: Aitken sets sights back on Europe

Amateur mountain biker Dan Aitken, of Wanaka, has revived his hopes of racing on the European downhill circuit with a top-10 finish at the recent National Downhill Championships in Wellington.

Aitken (24) was scheduled to travel to Europe and compete last June but was forced to cancel his trip after failing to raise the $10,000 he needed to realise his goal of taking on some of the world's best riders.

A crestfallen Aitken told the Otago Daily Times last year that his fund-raising efforts had fallen about $4000 short, but his recent results have spurred the Wanaka roofer to try again.

Aitken has been frustrated by injury during the 2007/2008 summer season, with concussion sustained after a crash in December leaving him under strict doctor's orders to stay off the bike.

However, the break gave him time to focus on his core fitness and, after missing the three-race South Island downhill series in January at Wanaka's Snow Park Queenstown's Coronet Peak and Dunedin, Aitken set his sights on the national championships in Wellington last weekend.

He qualified eighth-fastest behind other top riders such as former world junior champion Cameron Coles and Alexandra teenager Matt Scoles.

The result was Aitken's best finish in three attempts in the highly competitive field of downhill mountain biking.

He now wants to ride in Europe and has steadily worked his way towards raising the $4000 shortfall from last year to fund his travel and race entry fees.

Aitken invested the money he raised last year - through various efforts such as a 12hr stationary cycle on Wanaka's lakefront - and has continued to save towards his goal.

‘‘It's a battle without sponsorship, but I'm determined to get there [Europe]. It was my goal to crack the top 10 at the nationals and getting such a result after my injury lay-off has spurred me onwards,'' he said.

His time at the national champs, held on Wellington's hillside suburb of Brooklyn where wind gusts up to 150kmh were recorded during racing, was 2sec faster than his previous personal best, Aitken said.

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