By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Joao Ricardo Vieira leaned against the shark cage inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and exhaled.
The 36-year-old then flashed a smile at PBR entertainer Flint Rasmussen and glanced up at the jumbotron to watch back his 91-point ride on Diddy Wa Diddy during the 15/15 Bucking Battle at the PBR Express Ranches Invitational last weekend.
Yes, Vieira was winded, but how he felt on Saturday night paled in comparison to his lack of stamina that he had through the first two months of the 2021 season.
“I am so glad I am riding good again,” Vieira said outside of the locker room five minutes later, pausing to take a breath. “After COVID, I am riding better because it took me two months. I would lose my air, and I worked hard to recover. For two months, I felt no good. After Christmas, my breathing was not the same. I had to work hard to get back up. I felt not so good until February.
“I felt better because I worked hard, and now I am the same Joao.”
Vieira went a perfect 4-for-4 in Oklahoma City. His 91-point ride on Homegrown in the championship round Sunday was his ninth consecutive on the Unleash The Beast, netting him his first event win of the season.
“It was a dominant weekend for Joao Ricardo Vieira,” two-time PBR World Champion and CBS Sports Network analyst Justin McBride told Craig Hummer. “From start to finish, too. He wins the long round, and he kept the momentum rolling. He needed this one in the championship round, and he did it in a big way.”
The No. 2-ranked bull rider in the world is looking to become the oldest World Champion in PBR history this season.
“I feel good for this,” Vieira said. “I feel better for this. I have no problem with my age. My mind is so young.”
10-time PBR World Finals qualifier Paulo Crimber joined the Cowboy Channel this week to discuss Vieira’s victory in Oklahoma City.
“He just keeps proving to himself he is one of the best as it is,” Crimber said. “He is a 36-year-old veteran, and he is just in phenomenal shape. He keeps putting rides like that together week in and week out. He is going to be a big contender for this year’s world title.”
Crimber was impressed by Vieira selecting Homegrown during the championship round draft.
“That bull has been kind of hard to ride. A lot of guys get bucked off him,” Crimber continued. “He just stepped in there and had him as the first pick. That proves how much confidence he has right now and how talented and amazing he is as a bull rider. I think he is going to put up a lot more great rides like that through the season. I am impressed to see what that guy is capable of.”
Vieira, who turns 37 in July, nearly became the second-oldest world title winner last year before a positive COVID-19 test days before the World Finals halted his late-season push for the gold buckle.
Vieira was amidst arguably the best season of his career before he received the crushing news that he would be unable to compete inside AT&T Stadium, where no other bull rider has matched his success.
Could Vieira, the No. 2 bull rider in the world at the time of his positive test, have overtaken Jose Vitor Leme to win the 2020 PBR World Championship?
Vieira was only 424.59 points behind, and a victory at the World Finals may have been enough for him to usurp Leme.
The 2013 Rookie of the Year said he had mild symptoms develop in the days after his positive test, but he was not expecting to be so fatigued at events when he began the year in Ocala, Florida.
Vieira appeared far from the man who was in contention for a world title earlier this season, going 6-for-14 (42.86%) through the first two months. He has since gone 12-for-18 (66.67%).
The nine-time PBR World Finals qualifier is 67 points behind world No. 1 Kaique Pacheco heading into this weekend’s PBR Nampa Invitational. Vieira, who was bucked off by Regular Wednesday (6.44 seconds) on Wednesday night at the Clovis Rodeo PBR Touring Pro, has drawn Gray Smoke (2-0, UTB) for Round 1 on Friday night.
All the action airs live on CBS Sports Network beginning at 10 p.m. ET. RidePass will have corresponding coverage at 9:45 p.m.
Vieira will also try to crack Good Night Robicheaux in the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Nampa (2 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS national television; check local listings). Good Night Robicheaux is 2-0 against Vieira, including a 1.32-second buckoff earlier this season in Glendale, Arizona.
To turn things around this year, Vieira knew he needed to work on his stamina and improve his lung capacity. He would bike for 30 minutes a day and then run for another 15 to work on his conditioning.
Slowly but surely, Vieira noticed himself returning to form, and now he knows he can compete once again with young title contenders Leme, Pacheco and Cooper Davis.
“I am healthy, and I am so confident,” Vieira said. “I had a lot of good luck and got good bulls. There are a lot of rank bulls here, and sometimes you don’t have good luck in the draw. It is so much motivation because I want to stay with the best guys. Jose is a fantastic bull rider. Kaique is a consistent bull rider. I am glad to be in the middle of those guys. Cooper Davis is a World Champion and a young guy, and he stays at the top. This is good.
“It makes me better that I stay with these guys at the top.”
VIEIRA EARNS AUTOMATIC BID TO WCRA RODEO CORPUS CHRISTI
Vieira claimed the No. 1 seed on the WCRA’s Segment 7 leaderboard, which included nominated competition efforts at events held from July 2020 to April 2021, to qualify automatically to the showdown round of Rodeo Corpus Christi on May 9.
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Rodeo Corpus Christi will be held at American Bank Center, and Vieira will be joined by the Top 8 bull riders who qualify for showdown round through qualifying and progressive rounds.
From there, the Top 3 scores will advance to the Triple Crown of Rodeo Round, where the riders will compete for their share of the more than $500,000 event purse.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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