PUEBLO, Colo. – With one day remaining until the Built Ford Tough Series resumes in Biloxi, Mississippi, PBR.com will take a look at the Top 5 riders in the world standings before the stretch run to the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals officially begins.
Today, we look at Joao Ricardo Vieira, who is currently first in the world standings.
FIRST HALF RECAP: Vieira turned around a slow start through the first eight Built Ford Tough Series events into a commanding lead atop the world standings heading into the summer break thanks to two PBR Major victories (Last Cowboy Standing and Iron Cowboy). Starting with Iron Cowboy, he went 12-for-15 on his way to leaving the Seattle Invitational with the No. 1 ranking in the world.
That motivation never flamed out either as Vieira remained the No. 1 rider in the world for the final six weeks of the first half. He currently leads the BFTS in qualified rides (32), attempts (61) and 90-point rides (3). His 52.46 percent riding average is second to only Silvano Alves’ 59.52-percent average.
BEST FIRST HALF PERFORMANCE: For the second year in a row, Joao Ricardo Vieira took home the Iron Cowboy title.
This year, Vieira did it completely opposite of how he won the 2014 title.
Vieira rode all three of his bulls (Crack The Whip, Bruiser and Grandpa Joe) to win the first PBR Major event, over $180,000 and 900 points toward the world standings.
He had won the 2014 title despite not making a qualified ride (0-for-5) in Iron Cowboy’s old-bracket style event. This year’s event was a “ride or go home” format where riders had to make 8 seconds to advance to the next round.
Vieira sealed the victory with an 88.5-point ride on Crack The Whip, while Stetson Lawrence and Tanner Byrne were bucked off by Lane’s Magic Train (2.57 seconds) and Boot Jack (1.82 seconds).
Vieira jumped from 26th in the world standings to fifth, and he was well on his way toward the No. 1 ranking.
FIRST HALF TOP RIDE: 92.25 points on Walk Off in Seattle.
KEEPING THE GEARS OILED: Vieira competed sparingly this summer at various events in Brazil, Canada and the United States to increase his lead from 1,002.5 to 1,022.5 (20 points) on No. 2 Matt Triplett.
Most recently, Vieira earned 30 points for finishing second at the Amarillo, Texas, Touring Pro Division event last weekend.
Earlier in the summer, Vieira earned 10 points for his 88-point ride on Big Rig when he tied for the win on the second day of Pool A action at the Calgary Stampede after earlier in the week earning 15 points at a PBR Canada bull riding.
Vieira also spent June competing sparingly in Brazil where he picked up 15 points, while also doing some charity work in Sao Paulo.
VIEIRA MUST IMPROVE AWAY FROM HAND: It hasn’t affected his rise to the No. 1 ranking so far, but Vieira’s struggles riding bulls away from his left hand will be a major talking point during the stretch run to the Built Ford Tough World Finals if he continues to struggle there.
There is no question Vieria is one of the best riders in the world at handling bulls that spin into his left hand, but it has baffled some experts, such as two-time World Champion Justin McBride, at how Vieira has struggled poorly at times with bulls going to the right.
Vieira has been able to overcome those struggles by winning the two PBR Majors, but to finish in the Top-5 at the World Finals he will likely have to ride some bulls away from his hand.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert credited Vieira for rising to the No. 1 position this season, but he believes Vieira can fix his struggles away from his hand and become an even better bull rider.
“Joao is the guy to beat because he is in the lead,” Lambert said. “He can ride every bull there is that can go to the left. He can’t ride very many that go to the right, but I think he can fix that problem. It is not just a mental block, but it is partially a mental block. There are a couple very simple things that he can do rather than try and change his style.
“All you are trying to do is try and stay in the middle. Yeah, he is trying to lean and drop his free arm and lean to the inside and let everything go.”
If Vieira improves away from his hand, it will be that much harder for the rest of the field to try and catch Vieira as the 31-year-old continues his march toward his first career gold buckle.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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