By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – With one day remaining until the Unleash The Beast resumes in Bismarck, North Dakota, with the 20th annual Dakota Community Bank & Trust Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, PBR.com will take a look at the Top 5 riders in the world standings before the stretch run to the 2020 PBR World Finals begins.
Today, we look at Jose Vitor Leme, who is currently atop the world standings.
2020 First Half UTB Stats
Riding Percentage: 73.53%
Top Ride: 92 points on Bullseye (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Average Ride Score: 87.64
15/15 Bucking Battle victories: 0
Round Wins: 8
Top 10: 9
Top 5: 9
90-point Rides: 6
First Half Recap: Following back-to-back runner-up finishes in the world title race, Jose Vitor Leme is doing all he can to attempt to avoid being a bridesmaid for a third consecutive season.
Leme finished the first half of the 2020 Unleash The Beast atop the world standings by putting forth one of the best starts in the PBR’s 27-year history, even despite missing two events because of three broken ribs.
The 23-year-old leads the PBR in event wins (4) – which is the same number he won in all of 2019 – qualified rides (25), riding percentage (73.53%) and 90-point rides (6). Leme’s eight round wins is also tied with two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood for the most in the PBR. Leme also is averaging 87.64 points per qualified ride, which is second in the PBR to Lockwood, and he has gone a blistering 8-for-8 in championship rounds with an average score of 90 points.
Leme took over the world No. 1 ranking on Feb. 1 after racking up back-to-back event wins in Sacramento, California, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Leme left Oklahoma City with an 81-point lead on Lockwood. He then lost the ranking for one week when No. 3 Joao Ricardo Vieira finished second at the PBR Major Iron Cowboy in downtown Los Angeles seven days later. That was not for long, though, and Leme roared back into the No. 1 spot by winning the U.S. Border Patrol Invitational (St. Louis) at the next UTB event.
How good has Leme been in 2020? In comparison, no World Champion has ridden more than 70% for a full season since 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi concluded his title season – following his own run of three straight runner-up finishes – with a 72.55% percentage.
Leme will begin the second half with a 253-point lead on Lockwood, his friendly rival of 2019, and he has taken advantage of the defending World Champion’s injury misfortunes (reconstructive left hamstring surgery) this season.
The 2017 World Finals event winner has earned points in nine of the 11 Unleash The Beast events in which he competed during the first half, and he is averaging 67.40 world points per event.
If he keeps that pace up, Leme could have somewhere around a 650-point lead on Lockwood by the time the Volborg, Montana, returns to action in Billings, Montana, if he is cleared by Dr. Tandy Freeman.
Best First Half Performance: Leme earned a whopping 157.5 world points in Sacramento, California, when he went 4-for-4 to earn his first of four event wins in the first half. Leme was sensational in Sacramento, winning/splitting three of the four rounds. He won Round 1 with 88 points on Anthrax and finished tied for ninth in Round 2 with 84.75 points on Newsom.
Leme’s Round 3 winning ride (87.75 points on Danny Boy) carried with it added significance seeing as Danny Boy was the bull Leme slapped at 1.9 seconds in Round 2 of the 2019 World Finals that ultimately cost him the world title against Lockwood.
The Ribas Do Rio Pardo, Brazil, native would next win the event and championship round with 91 points on Rising Sun.
First Half Top Ride: Leme upped the ante the following week by earning the victory in Oklahoma City with a season-high 92 points on Bullseye. The ride is tied for the fifth-best of his career, and was part of Leme’s second streak of six consecutive rides (his season-high) through the first two months of the season. If not for his 5.63-second buckoff against Cool Customer during the Sacramento 15/15 Bucking Battle, Leme would have had a consecutive ride streak of 12 in a row.
First Half Reading:
• Leme relaxed and confident in strong start to 2020 season
• Leme happy with the improvement he is beginning to show with bulls away from his hand
• Path to Victory: Leme focusing on 2020 and not what could have been
• Leme wins individual title, hopeful for a Global Cup in Brazil in the future
• Palermo would not be surprised if Leme or Lockwood breaks his World Finals record
• Leme focusing on himself, not the situation
• Leme shows no rust from broken ribs in return to competition
• Path to Victory: Leme continuing to demonstrate he is in a league of his own
• Leme wins Built Ford Tough MVP as Team Cooper Tires finishes perfect season
MVP! MVP! MVP!: Leme captained Team Cooper Tires to the inaugural championship at the Monster Energy Team Challenge during the summer break. He was by far the best rider in the competition, and his 11-for-16 performance led the tournament. Leme accounted for 46.41% of his team’s total score, and his 11 qualified rides was more than the entire season totals of eight of the other 11 teams in the tournament. He averaged 86.8 points per ride.
Leme competed in only three other events following the first half finale in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in the middle of May and went a combined 3-for-5. He won the Rocksprings, Texas, Touring Pro Division event on June 26 with a 90-point ride on Hostage.
Analysis: 2020 World Champion = Jose Vitor Leme?
That is the consensus among many people heading into the second half of the season after Leme has done nothing but churn out 8-second rides and conquer almost every bull thrown his way in 2020.
“They can put Jose’s name on the belt buckle right now, and they would be able to present it at the Finals and wouldn’t have to send it back off to change the name,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert told PBR.com this week.
Two-time World Champion and CBS analyst Justin McBride said last week, “It is Jose Vitor leme and Jose Vitor Leme. No question. With Jess out, Chase (Outlaw) out, Cooper (Davis) has been out for too long. There ain’t nobody that can hang with Jose.”
RidePass host and five-time World Finals qualifier Colby Yates said he is excited to see how quickly Leme slams on the gas pedal when the second half resumes.
“I am really looking forward to watching what Leme does,” Yates said. “He is going to continue to put the pressure on everybody.”
However, it is safe to say that Leme is not going to get complacent until he is hoisting that World Championship trophy above his head in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 8 and has a gold buckle around his waist.
The heartbreak of seeing Lockwood rip the world title out of his grasp last season is still likely in the back of Leme’s mind, and that is only going to push him to keep working that much harder this season to finish off a World Championship season.
Lockwood overcame a 749.66-point deficit last year at the Finals, and Leme’s 253-point lead in the current world standings equates to roughly 866 points in the 2019 points system.
One rider, though, can earn a maximum of 1,040 world points at the 2020 World Finals.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see if Leme can continue to capitalize with Lockwood still recovering and rehabbing his left hamstring.
August could very much be an important month for Leme in his 2020 title pursuit. He has four more events and two 15/15 Bucking Battles to try and extend his 253-point lead on Lockwood before the reigning champion returns motivated and hungry to pursue his third world title potentially on Sept. 11 in Billings, Montana.
“The only way I see anybody catching him is if he got hurt and can’t go,” Lambert said. “If Jose is there, he is going to win. Jose’s level of commitment is the real thing. The only way anybody can catch him is if he is not there. I don’t care if Jess shows up and is at his very best. Jose is still going to win a lot.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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