NICK Thompson says retaining his European title in the laser class is his “number one priority” as a bumper fleet of nearly 170 sailors converges on La Rochelle.

Olympian Thompson goes into the week-long Laser European Championship among the favourites having swept to victory in last year's event in Barcelona.

The Lymington ace has spent the early regattas of 2018 working on specific areas of his sailing – and says he is ready to put learning into practice when racing starts tomorrow.

However, Thompson will face a fleet full of threats including Olympic champion Tom Burton of Australia, Germany’s Philipp Buhl and home town hero Jean-Baptiste Bernaz.

The event provides the final chance for Thompson to hone his skills in a stellar field ahead of the Sailing World Championship in Aarhus, Denmark, this summer.

“Defending my title is the number one priority this week,” he said.

“Over the past few regattas I’ve focused on improving certain areas 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 championship. Everyone will be gunning to do well.”

With two world championship wins under his belt and a European crown to defend, Thompson could be forgiven for feeling nervous. But he says he does not feel under the pump.

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

“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 Britain's five-strong contingent at the regatta, which also features Lorenzo Chiavarini, Michael Beckett, Jack Wetherell and Swanage's Sam Whaley.

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

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

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