The Starcross International at the Mantova circuit in Italy traditionally raises the blinds on the European motocross season. This latest edition last Sunday was dominated by the factory Red Bull KTM team both on and off the track. MX1 World Champion Tony Cairoli earned overall victory on the new 350 SX-F, while Shaun Simpson beat MX2 number one and teammate Marvin Musquin on the 250 SX-F. Chilly sunshine helped dry a sodden, rough and rutty track on Sunday but the afternoon shadows were of orange as Cairoli was clearly fastest in his maiden appearance for the Austrians.Sixteen hours before the gate dropped the works collective from Mattighofen were being unraveled to the press and selected guests along with the innovative KTM 350; a project originated from Team Manager Stefan Everts and Off-road Sport Director Pit Beirer's desire to conquer the premier MX1 category.MX1, almost universally the home of fuel-injected 450 four-strokes, now has a usurper in the shape of the slimmer, compact and lighter SX-F, coupled with arguably the best rider in the class for a frightening combination.The 350, with a brand new powerplant and suspension link - something of a departure for KTM - was conceived in two years and initially presented to the public at the Milan show towards the end of 2009. Mantova was the first time people saw the wheels turn and Cairoli reveal the potential of the bike."The link is just one part," said Beirer on the motivations for the creation. "We were working on a completely new frame concept with new technology that gives a different feeling to the rider. Everyone's bikes are getting too strong and too heavy for motocross tracks, from hobby riders up to professionals, and we feel the 350 gives more power back to the rider and more possibilities to pass on the track. People can have fun on this bike.""It is a brand new bike and normally you have some problems that come out in the first year," judged Everts, wishing to remain modest about the bike's expectations for 2010. "You will always have some disadvantages against the 450s because they will have more torque and acceleration at some points but there are many tracks where the average speed is quite low so they can be matched. 450s will need to brake earlier and the 350 can carry more corner speed; the advantage will swing back and forth.""I am enjoying the 350 and we still have time to test," Cairoli, two-time former MX2 champ before his MX1 success in '09, said. "We have to find the right direction with the bike but I think it will be a good season. I prefer riding a 250 compared to a 450 so this bike is good for me. I have been on it for two months so maybe I am a bit better prepared than everyone else."Two wins in the three motos and a tasty dice with new works Teka Suzuki rider Clement Desalle demonstrated Cairoli's verve on his new steed after six years with Yamaha. Tanel Leok, on his debut for LS Honda, escaped with the final sprint.American Mike Alessi, who was paraded next to Cairoli, with 2009 runner-up Max Nagl (campaigning the 450 in 2010) and 2009 MX2 vice champ Rui Goncalves (recovering from a shoulder op) will compete in the first three rounds of the World Championship in Bulgaria, Italy and Holland as a warm-up for an AMA calendar on the 350."After eight or nine months without a race I just want to get out there and get my confidence up, knock those cobwebs out," he said. "I think it is a great series. Being a World Champion has a lot of prestige. Not many people can say they are a champion of the world."Alessi had planned on competing at Mantova but injured his shoulder earlier in the week and chose not to ride.Countryman Jimmy Albertson will complete a full GP season with the impressive works Martin Honda squad and took a win in the unique 1-1 duel Sunday morning and promising sixth and fifth positions through the whirly sand."I know I have a lot to live up to; I have a factory ride," Albertson said. "I have the best equipment so I have to be best rider that I can be. To hit the top five in that last moto was good, especially when you look at the entry list."Mantova is the first chance to see the colors and technology of the coming season. While riders have different levels of preparation and readiness in anticipation of another seven or eight months of racing both nationally and internationally, these first meetings can give an indication as to the validation of off-season training and testing; effectively an initial evaluation. On this evidence the behemoth that is the Red Bull set-up will take some beating if similar veins of superiority extend into the GP calendar.Mantova Starcross results:Race 11. 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, HondaRace 21. 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, ApriliaRace 31. 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

By Cycle News Staff

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