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Fighting through a Tough Stretch

DES MOINES, Iowa – Guilherme Marchi winced as he struggled to stand up from his chair inside the locker room Sunday morning at Wells Fargo Arena.

The No. 5 bull rider in the world standings still had a couple of hours before he would have to attempt Vegas Outlaw, but Marchi was clearly feeling the effects of a rough Saturday night that saw him buck off Fire Bender in Round 1 and Pistol Pete in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.

Fire Bender had stepped on Marchi’s right ankle, and Pistol Pete had slammed him onto the cold, hard ground, causing Marchi a right shoulder separation.

Marchi eventually was ruled out for the final day of action in Des Moines, and he became the ninth rider inside the Top 35 of the world standings, and fourth inside the Top 15, to be out because of injury.

The 12-year Built Ford Tough Series veteran said that the past six weeks has been one of the toughest stretches in recent memory, especially with four 15/15 Bucking Battles in a row.

“I think so,” Marchi said. “You feel it, but that is part of the sport. You see a bunch of people hurt more than me. I am not bad, I am just sore.”

Marchi had relatively remained healthy – minus a sore riding wrist – during the past four BFTS events until he became the latest rider to get injury struck.

There will be a final 15/15 Bucking Battle of the first half this coming Saturday during the Rumble in the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Bucking Battle can be seen on CBS network television on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

While this is the time of the year where injuries and soreness begin to mount, many of the top bull riders in the world standings are feeling some soreness more than others because of the continuous 15/15 Bucking Battles that feature some of the rankest bulls available.

World leader Joao Ricardo Vieira was a couple chairs to the right of Marchi as he gritted his teeth while trying to wrap ice onto his sore ribs, which have been bothering him since injuring them three weeks ago in Nampa, Idaho.

Vieira said Saturday that he ideally would like to have 30 days off, or at least three weeks, to let the injury heal, but he felt like he could try and gut through the injury.

Despite his toughness, the injury definitely affected him at the Des Moines Invitational as he went 0-for-3 and failed to build upon his world lead on No. 2 Matt Triplett, who was only competing in his second event since tearing his left MCL at the Ty Murray Invitational.

At this time last season, Marchi was the No. 1 bull rider in the world through 16 BFTS events and he had ridden 26-of-52 bulls. In comparison, Vieira has gone 29-of-53 this season.

Overall, the Top 15 riders in the world have gone 294-of-676 (43.49 percent) this season compared to last season’s Top 15 going 306-for-687 (44.54 percent) through 16 events.

Valdiron de Oliveira, who is ranked fourth in the world standings, went 0-for-3 in Des Moines and was wearing a knee brace after injuring his left MCL in Billings, Montana.

Oliveira is a fan of the 15/15 Bucking Battle, but did say this season has been tougher than past ones.

“Oh yeah, it has been harder,” Oliveira said about the past four events. “This is harder because you have to get on more bulls. Sometimes in two days you are getting on four bulls if you make the short go, but it is not a big deal. I think it is OK.”

Two-time World Champion Justin McBride was the color commentator for this weekend’s CBS and CBS Sports Network broadcast in Des Moines.

McBride saw a variety of things contribute to the season-low total of 15 qualified rides.

“It was a rough weekend,” he said. “It is different consequences for all of them. Some of them are just beat down right now physically and that is what is hindering them – some of them (injured riders) aren’t even here. Then some are mentally beat down. We are seeing some guys that are just not riding good right now.”

No. 17 Stetson Lawrence said that he and the riders just need to “suck it up and be a cowboy” during this tough stretch of events.

Yes, it would have been nice to not have five consecutive 15/15 Bucking Battles in a row, but it is a great opportunity for the top riders in the world.

“It gives you another advantage to get the extra points, so we will take the opportunity,” Lawrence said. “Last weekend, during a three-day event (Billings), we had a 15/15 in the middle of it and you get on a 15/15 bull and then you get on a short-round bull. That takes a toll on the body.”

No. 20 Tanner Byrne echoed Lawrence’s thoughts.

Byrne is in his first full season on the BFTS and the second-year BFTS rider admitted that a full season on the BFTS is a “little bit more” harder physically than what he expected it would be.

He has bucked off seven of his last eight bulls, but is looking forward to the challenge of trying to end the first half on a high note.

“It is definitely tougher this time of year,” Byrne said. “We have been going since the first weekend in January. Getting on these rank bulls day in and day out with these 15/15s in a row – that is part of it.

Byrne has competed in three of the past four 15/15 Bucking Battles.

“This is the best of the best here in the big leagues,” he added. “It is like anything. By the end of the year you get tired out and everybody is pretty tired, but this is where you see the best of the best and you can get those points when the other guys are maybe feeling down or feeling fatigued. Once you get to the event, it is game on no matter how tired or fatigued you are.”

One bull rider that has made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks is Nathan Schaper.

Schaper has gone 6-for-9 in the past two events to soar to third in the world standings.

The 24-year-old said there is no question he and his fellow riders are feeling the effects of a long first half, which has two events remaining before the summer break.

“I am resting a lot more than normal,” Schaper said. “I am pretty much working and stretching out things that are hurt and sore, instead of strengthening right now.”

The first half of the BFTS concludes with Last Cowboy Standing, the feature event of Cowboy Spring Break on May 22-23. It is also the next PBR Major on the schedule.

Schaper said he has changed up his workout routine during the week to try and finish out the first half strong. He has put a greater emphasis on stretching in the days before an event.

He also has made it a habit to get at least eight hours of sleep per night.

“I sleep a lot,” Schaper added. “Getting a lot of sleep helps you stay mentally on top of your game too. You don’t want to get run down.”

Although, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the top riders in the world, says Schaper.

“There is a break coming,” he concluded. “I think we are all ready for a break.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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