By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – World leader Jose Vitor Leme has been relentless in his preparation for a return to competition recently by getting on a series of practice bulls in Texas.
On Saturday afternoon, the 23-year-old showed no rust in his first competition since breaking three ribs on Feb. 29, picking up right where he left off in his pursuit of the 2020 World Championship and $1 million.
No need for any WD-40. Instead, Leme is once again ready to take down anything in his way of winning his first world title.
Leme rode Homegrown for 86.5 points in Round 1 of the PBR Las Vegas Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, and picked up six world points with a sixth-place finish.
It was a great demonstration of determination by Leme, who originally appeared on his way to a buckoff before readjusting.
Leme now leads the injured and defending World Champion Jess Lockwood by 78.5 points in the world standings.
“I’m happy to come back and make a great ride again,” Leme told PBR.com Saturday night. “I feel strong again. Nothing hurt. (I am) 100% ready (to) ride bulls.”
Fans can hear from Lockwood on Sunday when he appears as a guest on PBR Keep Riding, presented by Monster Energy, on CBS Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The show hosted by Craig Hummer and two-time World Champion Justin McBride airs immediately following the conclusion of the PBR Las Vegas Invitational at the Lazy E Arena, which begins at noon ET.
McBride commended Leme for putting forth a gutsy effort Saturday to reach the 8-second mark.
“Big time guys do big time stuff,” McBride said. “You know what I mean? Things are weird right now. It’s a different setup. Jose gets strung out, is in terrible shape, but this is the difference in what an elite athlete does right here. He says, ‘No, it is not over until the 8 seconds is up, man. I am going to finish this ride.’ That’s guts, that’s will and determination right there from a great bull rider.
“I don’t even care about the score. That was a big-time effort by Leme.”
There were a total of nine qualified rides in Round 1 at the historic rodeo venue.
The closest challenger to Leme in the world standings to reach the 8-second mark was No. 14 Fabiano Vieira. The 37-year-old converted on Uncle Gangster for 87.25 points and a third-place finish in Round 1.
Taylor Toves won Round 1 with 89.5 points on Biker Bob, and Ezekiel Mitchell was hot on his heels with 89 points aboard Soup in a Group.
Vieira heads into Championship Sunday trailing Leme by 458.5 points in the world standings.
Leme has drawn Goodnight Robicheaux (18-0, UTB) in a heavyweight matchup for Round 2. Not only is Goodnight Robicheaux undefeated on the premier series, he is 33-0 at all levels of competition.
Vieira will square off against Flight Risk (5-0, UTB) in Round 2.
The PBR Las Vegas Invitational is being held at the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma in an event closed to fans and observing strict health protocols amidst the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
Leme said competing at the private event Saturday was unlike anything he had previously been a part of.
“This experience, it’s new for me,” Leme said. “I never ride in one event where we don’t have fans. It’s a lot different when you don’t have the fans talking with you and making noise.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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