The Matthes Report: GP of Lombardia

Matthes visits Mantova.

Matthes visits Mantova.

No Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in Muddy Creek, Tennessee, for me this week. Nope, this report is coming straight to you from Venice, Italy, as, on Sunday, I was doing the GP thing. I headed over to Italy for Mantova, round twelve of the MXGP series, which is always a pretty cool deal. Different riders, different tracks and some great racing all equal up to great day in Italy, although very hot.

Here are some random thoughts from a random Sunday in Italy.

– The Mantova track was always one I have wanted to visit for one reason or another. For one, Italy is cool. For two, the pre-season Starcross race that was held here for years always caught my eye. Three, it’s just one of those classic tracks. I was surprised at how tight it was. It’s a rather compact facility with lap times around two minutes and there’s not much room outside of the track. Sandy with a hard base and plenty of jumps, it got pretty rough as well. Although having what seems like thirty-four classes riding the track on a weekend might have something to do with that.

– Yup, this Tim Gajser kid is the real deal for sure. I’ve been surprised at his ability to challenge (and beat) Romain Febvre this year in the MXGP class. He’s the reigning MX2 champion, yes, but we all know (and he admitted to me in an interview on Saturday) that he was fortunate that Jeffrey Herlings got injured in order for him to wrap up that crown last year in the USA. This year I think we all thought he would be good and challenge for podiums, but this rise to domination has been impressive. In Mantova he was beat by Evgeny Bobryshev on Saturday in the qualifier, but on Sunday he went 1-1 with some fight from hometown hero Antonio Cairoli in the second moto.

Antonio Cairoli has somehow turned into an underdog in the last twelve months (ConwayMX)

This victory pretty much assures him the MXGP title, barring disaster, and, at nineteen years old, he seems to have an amazingly bright future, but it’s just a question of where that future is. Tim articulated to me that he grew up watching supercross races with Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Chad Reed (when I told Reed that the rider across from his pits told me he grew up watching him, Reedy rolled his eyes and said that kind of sucks! The joys of getting older) and that was his goal. To get to America and race supercross. He told me he practices supercross during the week and, looking at him ride, he seems like he would be great at the scrubbing and technique to be very fast indoors.

We know he’s doing the Monster Cup in Las Vegas in October and I suppose things will be clearer after that but, listening to him get excited about coming to the USA, I think it’s clear that his full-time USA racing job is coming up sooner than later.

– The second moto saw Antonio Cairoli grab the holeshot and lead most of the race before Gajser forced his way by. Cairoli’s got a bad hand, he hasn’t been able to ride during the week and I think he surprised himself with that ride. As a matter of fact once Cairoli slipped into second late in the race he seemed to lose his drive. No doubt his hand was sore, he was a bit winded and Gautier Paulin nipped him on the last lap to put ‘222’ into third.

Like a majority of fans, Matthes is keen to see Jeffrey Herlings in MXGP (ConwayMX)

But, until then, Tony’s ride threw the crowd into hysterics as he fought off the nineteen-year old soon-to-be-king. It struck me as funny that Cairoli, an eight-time world champion and one of the very best riders to ever put on a pair of boots, is soon to be two years removed from his last title and now looked upon as an underdog! The kids (Gajser and Febvre) have for the most part been better than the “old man" but, with some MXGP wins this year and third in the points, Cairoli is far from done. But, man, the scripts flip quick in this sport.

– Chad Reed’s two-race MXGP “vacation" is over and, although his day in Italy went terrible with a crash, a bike problem and an injury from last week’s race in England, he said he had fun and is looking to come back next year. I’ve known Chad for a long time now (worked on his team as a mechanic for four years) and, as he gets near the end, I find his perspective interesting because, trust me, it’s changed a lot from when he was the one of the best riders in the world for a couple of years. He’s got a bigger picture attitude that one gets with age.

The fans didn’t get a rider that was in the mix for the top five (it’s interesting that Reed’s outdoor skills completely flipped after his infamous Millville “Chad-a-pult" crash in 2011), but this weekend in Italy I witnessed that he’s still a very big deal for the fans and the series is a better one to just have him there in terms of interest and excitement.

– Gautier Paulin, who will be leaving Honda at the end of the year for a rumored spot on the Ice One Husky team, has been injured for most of the year but now has three podiums in the last four motos and in Italy, in heat as bad as anything I’ve seen in the USA, his fitness was impressive. Reed made a comment that in his first moto he could see riders that were not used to the humidity wilt a bit (everywhere I went in the paddock the intense temperature was a topic of discussion) and Paulin held strong in both motos.

It's easy to forget that Clement Desalle is capable of fighting for a title (ConwayMX)

– I think we forget that Clement Desalle is really, really good. Injuries and then more injuries have struck the Belgian, but in Italy he was very good to land on the podium.

– I think Stefan Everts, left without many options for his Suzuki team once he got ownership of it, knew that signing Ben Townley was a risky move. There was no middle ground with having Ben on your team. It was either going to produce a top five rider with wins here and there or he was going to get hurt and miss a lot of races with the latter being the most likely. That’s exactly what happened as BT just can’t get on track. One podium in a moto, a lot of crashes, missed races and this weekend in Italy a DNF-DNF performance with two crashes hasn’t been great. Everts rolled the dice big-time with Ben and he got what most of us thought he would. Can’t blame him for trying I suppose.

– In the MX2 class Jeffrey Herlings won again with dominant rides and yet again showed again that he’s in the wrong class. Febvre and Gajser took the path of more resistance and got rewarded for it. Although he’s coming off two years of injuries, Herlings seems determined to rack up the stats as he mentions his win totals more and more after these easy days. Great work Jeffrey, I’ve seen Jeremy McGrath walk around the pits without a bother time and time again and he’s got seventy-two supercross wins, the numbers don’t mean much in the end. Get into MXGP and get to the front there (which I have no doubt he will) and the respect will come pouring in. It looks like he will be forced to go MXGP next year with the powers that be changing the rules on him mid-season.

Words: Steve Matthes | Image: ConwayMX

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