By Tom Harle, Sportsbeat

Ellie Aldridge is determined to kick off Olympic year by retaining her European title.

Aldridge, who races in the Formula Kite class, rubber-stamped Team GB selection for Paris 2024 with European Championship gold on home waters in October.

The 27-year-old now heads to Mar Menor in Spain to defend her continental crown at a crucial stage in her Olympic campaign.

Aldridge is sure of selection for the Games, unlike the majority of her international rivals, who are still battling for berths.

“All of the years I’ve been kiting, Europeans has been the last main event of the year,” she explained. “This time it’s the first, so it’s a different dynamic, particularly with the Olympics on the horizon.

“I don’t think it will be any less important. I still want to try to do as best I can. I’m still working towards the Olympics and I’ll still be trying things out and developing things to do my best there.

“I want to defend my title and if I can do that in the lead-up to the Games, it will give me a lot of confidence. But there’s maybe not quite as much riding on it as other years.”

Add to that the presence of key rivals in the shape of France’s Lauriane Nolot and USA’s Daniela Moroz, who weren’t in Portsmouth last year, and an intriguing week lies in wait.

“Realistically it’s going to be even harder to win gold this year, “said Aldridge. “But it’s good that all of the big names are going to be here, I’ll need to beat them to win the Olympics.”

Mar Menor is a coastal lagoon off the east coast of Spain, by La Manga. It was the scene of one of Aldridge’s first tastes of kiting, visiting in November 2018 just after she switched to the discipline.

“It was the place we learned to foil,” she said. “We ended up going there for a couple of months in the autumn and it will be really cool to go back to where it all started.

“It’s safe to say I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and we were crashing constantly so hopefully that doesn’t happen this week! I have some good memories there.”

Aldridge’s Formula Kite group is the envy of the world with four British sailors finishing in the top 10 at last summer’s World Championships in the Hague.

That means she doesn’t have to look far for high-quality training partners.

“We’ve got the best group in the world, which is a huge asset," said Aldridge.

“Over the winter, we’ve been able to keep just amongst ourselves and we don’t need to train with other nations. It’s been a hard winter of training as a squad so hopefully we’ll see how all of the hard work has gone and if it’s paid off.”

Follow the British Sailing Team on Instagram at @britishsailing