Britain's Olympic sailing squad stepped up preparations for next year's Games in Athens at the Semaine Olympique at Hyeres, close to Toulon in southern France, yesterday, when Paul Goodison and Ben Ainslie both made good starts.
The event, one of the key regattas en route to the Olympics as well as the world championships in Cadiz in September, marked the return to the European circuit of Robert Scheidt, the Brazilian with six world titles and an Olympic gold and silver to his name.
Goodison, the man most likely to represent Britain next year, is keen to go one better than the recent Princess Sofia Trophy regatta in Palma de Mallorca, where he led until the final day when Daniel Birgmark, of Sweden, beat him, a fate which also befell Ainslie, into whose shoes he is stepping.
With over 120 entries, the fleet was split into four groups. Goodison began with a pair of seconds while Scheidt posted a first and a fifth.
Ainslie, who has moved up to the heavier singlehander, the Finn, was pipped by Belgium's Sebastian Godefroid, but the defeat stung him into banking a win and a fourth place.
Riding a wave of success is Shirley Robertson, gold medallist in the single-handed Europe in Sydney but now captaining a three-woman Yngling, the new keelboat class for Athens. Coached by the double Olympic silver medallist and Britain's America's Cup skipper, Ian Walker, she supplemented victories in the Barcelona Olympic and Princess Sofia regattas by taking two firsts in her opening races yesterday.
The Star class and many of the top Mistral windsurfer fleet, who have a European championship next week, are missing from this event, but Britain's Olympic manager, Stephen Park, knows the size of the task ahead.
"This is one of the strongest competitions internationally," he said. "Another fascinating battle will be in the 49er class, where Chris Draper and Paul Brotherton, who were second and third in the world championships, face up to two Spaniards who have both won that championship, Iker Martinez and Santiago Lopez."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies