PUEBLO, Colo. – It was a mixed bag of emotions for Neil Holmes this past weekend as he turned on CBS Sports Network to watch some of the action from the Baltimore Invitational.
There were moments of happiness and pride when he saw some of his friends he met during his four Built Ford Tough Series events last year pick up an 8-second ride, while at other times he just thought, “Hell, I can ride all of those bulls.”
After whetting his palette last year on the BFTS, Holmes has new priorities for the 2015 season and is going all-in on competing in PBR-sanctioned events, including this weekend’s BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Laredo, Texas, at the Laredo Energy Arena.
“Last year, I didn’t take the PBR as my priority as far as entering and everything,” Holmes said. “That is the only thing I am changing. Before I enter anything else, I am going to go to PBRs. I think if I would have had that same attitude at the beginning of the year (in 2014) I wouldn’t had such a late start. This year I am going to go after it early in the year and hopefully miss only a few events, instead of catching only a few events.”
Holmes made his BFTS debut last September during the Desert Showdown in Laughlin, Nevada, and his impressive fourth-place performance (2-for-3) led to the PBR granting him an exemption to compete in the final three events of the regular season.
In hindsight, Holmes realized that he should have pursued the PBR harder last season – he only competed in eight Touring Pro Division events before Laughlin – and said that in this upcoming year he is excited for an opportunity to work his way back onto the BFTS.
Holmes plans to compete at the Touring Pro Division event in Bossier, Louisiana, at the Century Link Center on Friday night before heading to Laredo later that night or early Saturday morning. He understands that every event matters if he hopes to qualify for the BFTS.
“Man, I am fired up,” Holmes said. “I haven’t been this excited in a while and being able to go to all of these events, it just kind of added fuel to the fire. I know that those points are going to count somewhere in the long run. Hopefully these events early in the year are going to help (qualifying) for the Finals. I take all of that into consideration.”
Austin Meier, who was cut from the BFTS last year during the summer break, did not watch the BFTS event this past weekend, but he did see some highlights and took a look at how the points system played out in Baltimore.
One of the major things he believes the 2015 points system will allow is for riders on the BlueDEF Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division to have a solid opportunity to ride their way to the BFTS faster than in past seasons.
“I don’t know if I have an opinion of whether it is the greatest thing or the worst thing; but as far as the Touring Pro side of it – what it looks like on paper – I think if you go out there and do good and finish high in the average it is going to get you back on tour a lot quicker. If you can gather up points on the Touring Pros it is going to help out holding you in there on the Built Ford Tough waiting to hit those home runs. I think it helps the Touring Pro guys quite a bit about trying to get on tour.”
It is a place that Meier obviously misses being.
The 28-year-old is not on the BFTS for the start of the season for the first time since 2007. He is coming off a career-low 48th place finish in the world standings, a year after he finished 36th in the world standings. He had only nine total qualified rides on the BFTS in the past two season after averaging 40 or more from 2009-12.
“I would give anything to be in those shoes to have those first five events back,” Meier said. “I think the previous year, whenever I made the Finals, it was such a relief that I had those first five events. Then that next year came around and I put so much pressure on myself trying to do something in those first five and it just backfired on me.”
According to Meier, he begins the season the lightest he has been since 2010 – the same year in which he finished second in the world standings to World Champion Renato Nunes.
It was the second season of four consecutive that Meier finished inside the Top 10 of the world standings.
Meier spent the majority of this offseason performing strictly core exercises in hopes of becoming a leaner bull rider than in years past.
“I went to not lifting any weights because I didn’t want to bulk up,” Meier explained. “I bulk up really easy when it comes to weightlifting. I’m going back and doing my yoga and stuff like that to get stretched out – that seems to lean me out. When I was in high school, I did 1,000 to 2,000 crunches a day. I decided it was time to get back to doing that.”
Meier says the first month of the season is crucial toward earning or losing a spot within the Top 30 of the world standings for riders at all levels of the PBR. The Top 35 finishers in the world standings are guaranteed a spot in the draw for BFTS events for the first five 2015 BFTS events, and the Top 30 are guaranteed eight.
“We always put emphasis whether you are a Built Ford Tough guy trying to get those points right here off the bat so you are not in that cut or whether you are a Touring Pro guy that is trying to gather up some points so that you can make that first cut, yeah, you always put a lot of emphasis on the very start of the year,” he said.
The Kinta, Oklahoma, bull rider, who also will be competing Friday night in Louisiana, said he all he could do is leave the past in the past and look forward to newer opportunities in 2015.
“For me, as far as pressure is concerned, I don’t think I am putting any extra pressure on myself,” Meier said. “I have spent two years putting pressure on myself and probably more than I needed to. I just got to be able to lay it to rest, as far as the pressure, and go back to having fun.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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