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Top Riders Talk Pressure Heading into World Finals

LAS VEGAS – Joao Ricardo Vieira is the man with a bullseye on him this week for the start of the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals.

Unlike most of this year’s top contenders, he has no problem with it.

Vieira said he feels no difference whether he is number one in the world standings or not heading into the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s good. I like it,” Vieira said. “I just try to do the same thing everyone tries to do, and that is to be a World Champion. I have a lot of experience here already and that is why I don’t feel pressure anymore.”

Vieira has been the top-ranked rider in the world for the past six weeks.

Still, if he is the man standing on top of the shark cage on Sunday afternoon with a gold buckle and a $1 million bonus for the first time in his career he will be just the fourth rider in the last 11 years to leave Las Vegas No. 1 after arriving as the top rider in the world standings.

Silvano Alves (2011), Guilherme Marchi (2008) and Justin McBride (2007, 2005) are the last three riders to do so.

Alves begins the Finals ranked third in the world and has been on both sides of the spectrum. When the 26-year-old won his first world title in 2011 he entered Las Vegas in the No. 1 position. In 2012, he was the second man in the world standings before winning his second world title.

Then, last year, Alves was the No. 1 rider in the world before 2013 World Champion J.B. Mauney usurped him by going 6-for-6 at Finals, while Alves went 5-for-6.

“Being No. 1, there is more pressure,” Alves said. “You want to be relaxed and not nervous and right now I am happy because I am before No. 1.

“Last year I rode good and J.B. rode very good. He was perfect for winning the title and that is competition. One year it is me and next year it can be another guy.”

Alves, who has not been the No. 1 rider in the world standings all season, explained that he likes going into Finals knowing all he has to think about is riding all six of his bulls. He understands that is the main thing he needs to focus on if he hopes to become just the second rider in PBR history to win three world titles.

He has also become known for thriving under the lights, pressure and competition of World Finals.

“I feel good in competition,” Alves concluded. “Nothing is assured, but I am very happy.”

Marchi, the fourth-ranked rider in the world, didn’t even hesitate when approached with the question of what he preferred.

“There is less pressure being No. 3 or No. 4 and that is better than being No. 1,” Marchi said. “The TVs and everything are going to be on the No. 1 guy. In your head, with all the TVs on you, you want to win this event and this title even more. That is the hard thing.”

He then laughed about 2008, claiming it was an easy Finals for him because he had such a large lead in the world standings. Marchi headed to Las Vegas with a 3,358.75-point lead heading into the Finals. He went on to ride 7-of-8 bulls to win his first world title and finish second in the event average – only 2.75 points behind Robson Palermo.

This year that will not be the case for Vieira. He begins the Finals with only a 511.63-point lead on No. 2 Fabiano Vieira and 516.19-point lead on Alves. Marchi enters the Thomas & Mack Center fourth in the world and 1,019.19 points off the pace, while 2004 World Champion Mike Lee is fifth and only 1,433.44 points back.

Marchi was the No. 1 rider in the world standings a season-high 13 times this year and pointed out that things actually may be easier for Vieira compared to past No. 1’s seeing as Vieira is still working on his English. Therefore, his interview requests will be fewer than they were last year for Mauney.

“He doesn’t know much English so they are not going to bother him as much, which will help him,” Marchi said.

Fabiano Vieira was the top-ranked bull rider three times this season and is entering World Finals with a laid-back approach. He is just letting things come as they do.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I thank God for what he decides. I concentrate no matter where I am in the standings.”

Lee has never entered the World Finals in the No. 1 position, but he has spent time atop the world standings, including four times in 2014.

Lee (2004) and Marchi (2005) are also the only riders ranked in the Top 5 that have won the World Finals event average.

The Decatur, Texas, bull rider agreed about the distractions that come with being the No. 1 rider.

“No. 1 spot probably has a lot more pressure on that, but it is nice being No. 1 too,” Lee said. “I just want to be where I am supposed to be and I think that is where I am supposed to be. As long as I stay comfortable, keep my mind right and keep things right at home and not get spoiled and be grateful, then things will fall into place.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.

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