Nick Thompson says retaining his European title in the Laser class is his “number one priority” as a bumper fleet of almost 170 sailors converges on La Rochelle, France.

Rio 2016 Olympian Thompson goes into the week-long Laser European Championships among the favourites having swept to victory at the 2017 event in Barcelona last October. 

The senior British Sailing Team member has spent the first few regattas of 2018 working on specific areas of his sailing – and says he is ready to put his learnings into practice when racing starts on Monday 7 May.     

However Thompson will face a fleet packed full of title threats including Rio 2016 gold medallist Tom Burton of Australia, Germany’s Philipp Buhl and hometown hero Jean-Baptiste Bernaz.   

As well as being a key regatta in its own right, the event represents the final opportunity for Thompson to hone his skills in such a large international fleet ahead of the Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, this summer.   

“Defending my title is obviously the number one priority this week,” said Thompson, who turns 32 today. 

“Over the last few regattas I’ve focused on improving certain areas of my sailing rather than being worried about overall scores, but now the real racing is starting it’s time to put those into practice and get some results.

“This is a big event and most of the top guys are going to be there. The fleet is going to be stacked. It’s an important event in itself and one I want to win but it’s also the last major test before the world championships in Aarhus. Everyone will be gunning to do well here for sure.”   

With world championship wins in 2015 and 2016 under his belt and a European title to defend, Thompson could be forgiven for feeling nervous – but he says he feels no pressure going into the event.   

“I don’t really feel that pressure – I felt the same way when I had to defend my world title,” said Thompson, from Lymington, Hants. 

“I think a lot of that is because I have spent so long working on specific aspects of my sailing without focusing too much on results.”   

Thompson will lead the British Sailing Team’s seven-strong contingent at the regatta, which also features Lorenzo Chiavarini (above), Michael Beckett, Jack Wetherell, Sam Whaley, Daniel Whiteley and Jack Cookson.   

After a tough time at the recent World Cup Series Hyères, Beckett, 23, says he’s pin-pointing a top ten finish in La Rochelle.   

“I took a bit of a hammering at the World Cup last week – some tough racing left me finishing well below where I wanted to be,” said Beckett, from Solva in Pembrokeshire. 

“The silver lining is of course everything I can learn from that event and take into the Europeans - it was a lot of learning for me.   

“If I can get myself to a point where I am top 10 going into the closing races of the regatta I will be happy, the entry for this event is massive with a lot of awesome sailors from outside Europe too, so I can't wait for the challenge.”   

Having made his World Cup Series debut in Hyères, Whaley is itching to get back into action.   

“Racing against the best in the world at the Hyères World Cup was a massive boost and a huge kickstart to my European preparations,” the 21-year-old from Swanage said. 

“I’m buzzing to get these Europeans underway and hopefully replicate my form from day one in Hyères where I was lying eighth overall. Bring it on.”   

In the Laser Radial competition, held alongside the Laser Standard, the British Sailing Team is represented by Alison Young, Georgina Povall and Clementine Thompson.