By: Darci Miller
PUEBLO, Colo. – If it feels as though a world title race doesn’t truly begin until Jose Vitor Leme is around, the pursuit of the 2024 PBR World Championship officially begins this weekend in Salt Lake City.
The two-time PBR World Champion and perennial world title contender returns to the draw at the PBR Salt Lake City on Feb. 9-10 after missing more than two months with a groin injury.
After finishing 2023 ranked No. 2 and completing a second-consecutive MVP campaign with the Austin Gamblers in PBR Teams, the 2024 season hasn’t had nearly the start Leme would’ve hoped.
Leme competed in the first two Unleash The Beast events of the season in November and December, but then doctored out due to a groin injury.
Leme says he felt the injury occur during his Round 1 ride aboard Buffalo Chip in St. Louis. He earned 86.25 points for his efforts but did not finish the event.
“I felt my groin in the first movement I made to spur the bull and then again when I went to spur the bull for the second time, but I still managed to finish the ride,” Leme told Rodeio S.A.
While he initially didn’t think the injury was serious – it even occurred on the leg unaffected by his previous lingering groin injury – we haven’t seen him since.
He’s missed seven premier series events, including two PBR Majors, which would’ve been prime opportunities to make up ground given the additional points on the line. He has fallen to No. 35 in the Unleash The Beast World Championship standings.
But if anyone can make up ground in a world title race, it’s Leme.
Last season, he competed in just 16 of 24 Unleash The Beast events and still finished No. 2 in the standings with a world title in reach until the very last day of the PBR World Finals.
In 2021, he competed in 21 of 30 events en route to his second world title.
Leme has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, including to his groin, so he’s ridden with and recovered from this type of injury before. He’ll just have to put together a prototypical Leme season to make up ground.
In 2021, Leme had arguably the best season in PBR history, winning seven events – including the World Finals – and breaking or tying six records as he left other riders in his dust.
But even a more modest performance would do the trick.
Last season, he won three events and had eight Top-5 finishes, and he could’ve won his third world title had he not stumbled at the World Finals.
And, while his 2024 stats are lacking, the ones he does have look… well, like Leme. In four outs across two events, he’s 4-for-4 with one 90-point ride and one Top-5 finish.
Will this be the Leme that returns in Salt Lake City? Only time will tell. Leme will take on Modified Ride (1-1, UTB) in Round 1, which begins on Feb. 9 at 9:45 p.m. ET on RidePass on Pluto TV.
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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