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Fletcher and Bithell set for 49er European title defence

World number one 49er crew Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell will look to defend their European title in Gdynia, Poland, in their final test ahead of the Sailing World Championships.

The duo won gold medals at both the European and World Championships in 2017 – and after a strong start to this season are targeting more medal success when racing gets underway on Sunday 8 July.

Fletcher and Bithell go into the week-long regatta – a combined European championships for the 49er, 49er FX and Nacra 17 classes – among the favourites after scooping gold and silver medals at the 2018 World Cup Series Miami and Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma respectively.

Dylan Fletcher Stuart Bithell

Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell. ©Lloyd Images

However they will face stiff competition from the likes of home team Dominik Buksak and Szymon Wierzbicki, Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Lopez and Argentinian pair Yago and Klaus Lange.

Crucially the event is the last time Fletcher and Bithell will face their rivals before taking them on at the Sailing World Championships, the 2018 season highlight taking place in Aarhus, Denmark, in August.

“The Europeans is always an important regatta and one we very much want to win, but ultimately the main goals this year are the Sailing World Championships in Aarhus and the first Tokyo 2020 test event,” said Fletcher, from Market Harborough.

“The Europeans is a great stepping stone to those events so we can gauge how our training has gone, how we’re looking against the other top teams and whether we need to make any last-minute tweaks.”

We’re looking forward to getting out there and trying to retain our title – Stuart Bithell

Rochdale’s Bithell added: “It’s our first event for a while – we’ve been concentrating a lot on training in Weymouth. We’re looking forward to getting out there and trying to retain our title.”

Fletcher and Bithell aren’t the only Brits looking to capitalise on 2017 medal-winning performances.

Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey will aim to better their European silver medal while Ben Saxton will attempt to beat his bronze with crew Nikki Boniface.

Charlotte Dobson Saskia Tidey

Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey. ©Lloyd Images

The Europeans is the first major championship of the year, and it’s time for us to put together all the things we’ve learned so far this season,” said Dobson.

“We went right back to basics is many areas so we’re looking forward now to tying it all together in the run up to the world championships.

“So far the weather has been scorching and the offshore wind incredibly unstable so it is shaping up for a really difficult championship, but we are ready to try and improve on the silver we won here last year.”

Saxton, the Nacra 17 world champion, said he and Boniface will also be aiming to refine their skills ahead of the world championships, but admitted being unable to switch off his desire to win.

Ben Saxton and Nikki Boniface

Ben Saxton and Nikki Boniface. © Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy/World Sailing

“We’re looking forward to going racing at the Euros, it’ll be a nice warm-up for the worlds,” he said. “There’s a bit of pressure to perform – it’s nice to do well and we can’t kid ourselves that we’re not there to win.

“We’re going there to race and we’re not going to walk away with the excuse that we’re only focusing on the worlds. We’re going to be trying new stuff and keeping learning, but we’ll try to do well at the same time.”

Fellow Nacra 17 pair John Gimson and Anna Burnet will go into the regatta on a high having won bronze at the Medemblik Regatta in May then gold at Kiel Week last month.

They will be joined in the class by teammates Chris Rashley and Laura Marimon, and Rupert White and Kirstie Urwin.

The British Sailing Team’s 49er contingent will include Jack Hawkins and Chris Thomas, Chris Taylor and Sam Batten, Morgan Peach and Rhos Hawes, James Grummett and Daniel Budden and Gillies Munro and Daniel Harris.

Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth will be looking to make their mark on the 49er FX fleet having teamed up in April. They will be joined on the start line by fellow British pairing Megan Brickwood and Ellie Aldridge.

Racing begins on Sunday July 8 and will conclude with medal races on Friday 13 July.