LAUGHLIN, Nev. – There he was just sitting on the pavement just beyond the out gate of the arena at the Laughlin Events Center.
Puddles of sweat beaded down his furrowed brow as he began to slowly take off his riding glove following his 87.25 points on Meat Hook in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round. There was no sense of urgency to look behind him and watch the other three remaining riders in the Desert Showdown nod their heads.
The most important thing in the moment was catching his breath after another infamous Mike Lee lap around the arena, except this one came with nighttime temperatures in the 90s.
He was sitting in first place and on the verge of winning his second event in the past four weeks and showed no concern over what was going to happen in the arena even though another event win would do wonders for the 2004 World Champion’s attempt to win his second world title.
“There is a title race and blah blah blah, but when it comes down to it you have to get on this bull tonight and that is what it comes down to,” Lee said. “I don’t think I really think about it. I guess I do every once in a while. I just think it would be really cool if I did win it. I think I have a good chance. We all have a good chance.”
Lee’s odds have only improved after his 3-for-3 performance and 253.75 points were good enough to win the Desert Showdown and move the Decatur, Texas, cowboy to within 357.19 points of the world lead.
He entered the weekend fifth in the world standings, and other than bucking off I’m a Gangster Too in the 15/15 Bucking Battle, Lee looked as relaxed as could be on his way to jumping to third in the world.
The subject of the world title race remains to be a nonchalant topic of conversation for Lee. He admits that sometimes he feels the pressure weighing on him, and at other times he doesn’t. Part of that comes from 13 years of experience on the Built Ford Tough Series. He has been a part of title races before and this is nothing new to the 31-year-old.
It is actually what makes this year’s contenders so intriguing. Four of the Top 5 riders in the world are 30 years or older and are proven commodities. Then, of course, 26-year-old Silvano Alves, with his two world titles, is no slouch either.
“The thing about it is when you get our age, stuff goes wrong for a while and you don’t really panic because eventually it’s going to come around,” Lee said. “You just have to be patient.”
Such was the case on Friday night for Lee. He admits that he was too nervous getting aboard I’m a Gangster Too and never set his feet properly before leaving the chute and bucking off in 4.17 seconds. Instead of becoming flustered, Lee bounced back Saturday to ride Doctor Wishes for 80 points in Round 2 and earn the victory above Meat Hook.
“You have to learn from your mistakes somewhere,” Lee said.
He rode Flint for a round-winning 86.5 points Friday.
Coincidence or not, both of Lee’s wins have come in the only two outdoor BFTS events this season. Lee has always enjoyed competing at outdoor events because he feels less pressure and more at peace. It is easier to ride when he feels like he is riding the same way he did as kid before he became a professional athlete.
All of the glitz and glamour can be blocked out when he is under the midnight sky.
“It reminds me of when I was a kid,” he said. “My mom and dad took me ever since I was 11 or 12 years old in an old beat up car and it was really hot in Texas outside and it makes me feel at home.”
The Laughlin victory was an important one for Lee after he had gone just 1-for-5 after winning the BFTS event in Thackerville, Oklahoma. He is in his best position to win a world title since 2008, the last year he won two BFTS events in one season. Lee entered the World Finals that year in third place before concluding the season eighth in the world.
Lee’s performance in Laughlin left nine-time World Champion Ty Murray impressed.
“The only guy that stepped up and acted like he wanted to go for a $1 million bonus was Mike Lee,” Murray said. “Mike Lee is pretty impressive thinking he is 10 years removed from his last World Championship, and he is making some really solid rides and is doing a lot of things right.”
There are only three regular Built Ford Tough Series events remaining, as well as the additional Monster Energy Bulls on the Beach 15/15 Bucking Battle, and Lee is embracing the thrill of the challenge.
“The pressure is on you,” he said. “It is kind of cool. Not everybody gets to have this pressure and gets to be in my shoes. I am going to be grateful for this.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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