The Mantova Starcross International –- the traditional alarm clock for European motocross to awake from its winter slumber –- was an orange show, as the 2010 edition was the setting for new Red Bull KTM rider Tony Cairoli to demonstrate the potency of the Austrian brand’s new 350 SX-F. The World Champion was the fastest individual across the sandy jumps, both through the gray wet and cold of Saturday and then belated sunshine on Sunday. The affections of a decent crowd partially warmed “222” on his way to dominating the first two of three motos, but a sensation was caused by another run-in with Belgium’s controversial Clement Desalle, now a works Teka Suzuki rider.
Cairoli would have been denied a clean rack of victories as a consequence of Estonian Tanel Leok’s escape in moto three. The dipping sun shrouded the jumps, but Leok, now steering an LS Honda –- his third manufacturer in as many seasons –- was the only figure to detach himself from the Sicilian.
Desalle attempted, in his usual brash fashion, to keep second position, but his unusually wide line around the first corner of the final lap had a closely pursuing Cairoli shaking his head. The KTM recruit was then angry and went for a block-pass on the first of the three banked curves that dwarf the layout. The pair collided, Desalle prevailing. Cairoli then briefly slipped off on the final inclined turn, ending the contest. A fiery dispute between the pair erupted on the entry to the pits, and when Desalle had to join Cairoli and runner-up Steve Ramon on the podium, the two rivals continued to discuss the incident. Cairoli called the Suzuki rider “dangerous” in his post-race interview but had regained his usual mellow demeanor by the time of his post-race visit to the media center.
The eruption took a little of the attention away from what was essentially a KTM weekend. Their hotel-based presentation of the eight-rider factory team on Saturday night (Musquin, Simpson, and Herlings in MX2; Cairoli, Nagl, and Goncalves in MX1; plus Mike Alessi and Women’s #1 Steffy Laier) was melded with the competitive unveiling of the 350, brainchild of KTM team manager Stefan Everts and off-road sport director Pit Beirer in their vision to rule the premier MX1 class. Cairoli’s debut in the GP behemoth’s colors was a further emphatic example of the firm’s desire for success.
Elsewhere, various levels of readiness were witnessed among the five factory teams that entered. Max Nagl openly confessed he was not yet fit, preferring to take a slow approach to the season to sustain his condition, while riders like Seb Pourcel were returning to action after long injury layoffs. Yamaha was displaying its new innovative YZ450F, but to far less fanfare than KTM’s new machine. David Philippaerts rode steadily to fifth overall and commences further development in the following eight weeks up to GP1 in Bulgaria. Ken De Dycker, riding for Yamaha Monster Energy Ricci MX, looked like a rider still trying to adapt.
Marc De Reuver had a decent ride for his Dutch Beursfoon Suzuki squad, and Leok was also sprightly on the CRF. Teenage starlet Ken Roczen DNF’d two moto, one through a twisted left knee, which was sufficiently recovered for the third race, but his Teka Suzuki let him down. His teammate Arnaud Tonus (the first winner of the Nations Ricky Carmichael Award, trivia fans) marked a fine debut with third place on the MX2 podium behind world champion Marvin Musquin and winner for the second year in a row Shaun Simpson. The Scot was excellent in the first moto, when he took on the 450s to capture fourth. A slip in a crowded second turn for the final sprint dropped him to fourteenth, but it was still enough for 4-7-14 to walk the top step.
Absentees included Gautier Paulin, who jetted in from the States only a few days before the meeting; Josh Coppins, who had tendonitis in his hand; and Alessi himself, who revealed that a sore shoulder in the wake of a crash ten days earlier meant he was in no condition to tackle the Mantova mounds.
Martin Honda’s 21-year-old signee Jimmy Albertson impressed a great many spectators, winning the entertaining 1-1 knockout duel (fought with a select group of riders meaning four “matches”) and fought hard in each moto. His first race ended with a bent radiator after a fall and a trip back to the paddock on a steaming Honda. His next efforts, to sixth and fifth, were admirable.
“It went good today,” Albertson said. “I was struggling on Saturday because I had never ridden anything like this before. It was a big change for me. I went to bed and really went through it in my mind and came out swinging. I won the 1-1 and felt a whole lot more comfortable. I could manage that one lap, and although it might have looked like I was not out of control, I felt like I was out of control in the sand! I am not used to it yet. Every session was better.”
The psychological worth of these preseason races in Europe is considerable. A win or decent performance can reaffirm work or ideas endured during the winter or perhaps a technical direction; a bad day can be shrugged off but does not exactly lift spirits. For the vast majority, Mantova was the first real “test session” of 2010. The clear indication is that Cairoli will be the man to catch and the individual to appreciate once more, no matter the color of the livery.
1. Tony Cairoli, ITA, KTM; 2. David Philippaerts, ITA, Yamaha; 3. Marc de Reuver, NED, Suzuki; 4. Shaun Simpson, GBR, KTM; 5. Jonathan Barragan, SPA, Kawasaki; 6. Steve Ramon, BEL, Suzuki; 7. Max Nagl, GER, KTM; 8. Aigar Leok, EST, TM; 9. Ken De Dycker, BEL, Yamaha; 10. Bas Verhoeven, NED, Honda
1. Tony Cairoli, ITA, KTM; 2. Clement Desalle, BEL, Suzuki; 3. Tanel Leok, EST, Honda; 4. Steve Ramon, BEL, Suzuki; 5. Marc de Reuver, NED, Suzuki; 6. Jimmy Albertson, USA, Honda; 7. Shaun Simpson, GBR, KTM; 8. David Philippaerts, ITA, Yamaha; 9. Ken De Dycker, BEL, Yamaha; 10. Manuel Priem, BEL, Aprilia
1. Tanel Leok, EST, Honda; 2. Clement Desalle, BEL, Suzuki; 3. Tony Cairoli, ITA, KTM; 4. Steve Ramon, BEL, Suzuki; 5. Jimmy Albertson, USA, Honda; 6. David Philippaerts, ITA, Yamaha; 7. Marc De Reuver, NED, Suzuki; 8. Marvin Musquin, FRA, KTM; 9. Jonathan Barragan, SPA, Kawasaki; 10. Xavier Boog, FRA, Kawasaki