PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba has the utmost respect for the bull riders lurking behind him in the PBR world standings.
The recently minted No. 1 bull rider in the world understands he cannot sit back and rest in his laurels following a PBR-leading fifth event win last weekend in San Jose, California.
The 2017 World Championship race is shaping up to be one of the closest finishes in PBR history with five riders separated by less than 660 points.
Therefore, Kolbaba believes the difference between winning $1 million or not may come down to how he performs at the upcoming Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour Finals this weekend at South Point Arena (Oct. 28-30).
“It is just an extra 520 points. There you go,” Kolbaba said. “There are so many points up for grabs and you don’t know what the hell can happen. Why not go and try and get as many as you can?
“It can be the difference between winning $1 million. You can’t go into the Finals just floating on idle.”
Kolbaba by no means is arriving at the South Point Arena in neutral.
His 3-for-3 victory at the Cooper Tires Take The Money and Ride, presented by Wrangler, earned him 612.5 points toward the world standings and pushed into the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career.
The 21-year-old heads into the Velocity Finals with an extremely, slim 102.5-point lead on No. 2 Eduardo Aparecido.
The 2017 World Championship race is not just a two-man race, though. Kolbaba barely holds a 134.17-point lead on defending World Champion and No. 3 Cooper Davis and is 452.5-points ahead of No. 4 Kaique Pacheco.
No. 5 Jess Lockwood is only 655 points behind Kolbaba and No. 6 Chase Outlaw is well within reach (-1,095.84).
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray said you can look at the Top 6 riders in the world standings and realistically see any of them winning the world title.
“Kolbaba looked great this weekend,” said nine-time World Champion Ty Murray. “We have six guys in the race that are riding really, pretty good. Generally, we haven’t had a race this tight and this deep with guys riding this good. It is going to be a fantastic Finals.”
Kolbaba could take a significant step forward in the title race if he were to win the Velocity Finals.
He and Lockwood are the only two riders ranked in the Top 5 of the world standings competing this weekend at South Point Arena.
One rider can earn a maximum of 520 points at the Velocity Finals. The event average winner takes home 200 points and each round win is worth 80 points.
“I try not to look at it too close,” Kolbaba said. “I know they are not going to stub their toe. That is a fact. You have awesome guys behind you. Cooper Davis. Jess. Kaique. Eduardo. They don’t buck off very often. I am not going to let up at all and I will let it all hang out.”
Kolbaba also has a chance to win the $50,000 Velocity Tour championship.
The third-year pro is fourth in the Velocity Standings and trails RVT leader Skeeter Kingsolver by only 85 points.
“Pockets will be a little deeper and points a little more,” Kolbaba said. “That is what it all comes down to.”
It won’t be a walk in the park for Kolbaba even with Aparecido, Davis and Pacheco opting to rest this weekend in preparation for the 2017 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals (Nov. 1-5).
There will be stiff competition awaiting Kolbaba at the Velocity Finals with three-time PRCA champion Sage Kimzey accepting an invitation to compete.
Kimzey joins four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris and 2012 PRCA champion Cody Teel as former PRCA champions riding in Las Vegas.
They aren’t the only champions either.
The last three PBR Brazil champions – Jose Vitor Leme (2017), Dener Barbosa (2016) and Luciano de Castro (2015) are also in the draw.
2017 PBR Australia champion Troy Wilkinson and 2017 PBR Canada champion Zane Lambert will be fighting for a World Finals spot at the Velocity Tour Finals as well, while three-time World Finals event Robson Palermo and 2015 PBR Canada champion Tanner Byrne are hoping to sneak into the Finals after a year of injuries.
There are also six PBR Rookie of the Year winners – Lockwood, Harris, Joao Ricardo Vieira, Emilio Resende, Cody Nance and Reese Cates – competing too.
It is a star-studded field with much on the line for riders of all ages and experience levels.
“For somebody that is not even close in the world standings, it is an opportunity to jump and get the chance to ride at the biggest stage in bull riding. It is a big confidence boost for one. It helped me out a lot. It is great.”
However, Kolbaba is very close in the standings and is fighting for much more than just a trip to the World Finals.
Kolbaba heads into Las Vegas as the man to beat in the world title race.
He also begins the possibility of facing 10 bulls in nine days 100 percent healthy.
“If I didn’t feel good, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Kolbaba said. “If I was sore, I wouldn’t be doing it just because there is so much up for grab at the (World) Finals. I don’t see the point in not going.
“Those guys are coming in hot, so I figure I might as well go get as many points as we can and stay tuned up for the Finals.”
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