SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Claudio Montanha Jr. kicked his helmet in celebration and then brushed all the weight off his shoulders Saturday night inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
Montanha had just ridden Stuntman Ray for 88.5 points – his third-best ride of 2018 – in Round 2 of the First PREMIER BANK PREMIER Bankcard Invitational and even he couldn’t contain the exorcism of pressure he underwent as he heard that long, forgotten 8-second buzzer go off.
The 28-year-old then went on to ride Sitting Bull for 85 points in Round 3 prior to his 3.28-second buckoff against Rising Sun in the championship round.
“I am very happy to draw two great bulls and finish them off,” Montanha said with the help of Paulo Crimber translating. “I try to forget everything that has happened in the past and move on and focus about the future.”
2009 Ring of Honor inductee and RidePass commentator J.W. Hart was impressed with Montanha’s ride aboard Stuntman Ray.
“This is a really good ride,” Hart said on RidePass. “You watch this bull’s front end. His front feet is getting off the ground good and there is drop into that ground hard. He is hitting that ground hard. He is kicking those back feet. That was an excellent bull ride.”
While it wasn’t a huge performance for the No. 4 rider in the world standings, it was a much-needed one.
Montanha had not earned any world points in his last three events and was 1-for-7 following his victory at the Duluth Invitational last month.
His seventh-place finish in Sioux Falls earned him 110 world points.
Montanha heads into next weekend’s Tacoma Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, a mere 94.17 points behind world leader Ramon de Lima.
“This is what I am hunting for,” Montanha said. “To get that No. 1 position and get comfortable with it and ride without the pressure.”
In fact, any of the healthy Top 10 bull riders in the world standings – Lima, No. 3 Jose Vitor Leme, Montanha, No. 5 Cody Nance, No. 6 Eduardo Aparecido, No. 7 Jess Lockwood or No. 10 Cooper Davis – can leave Tacoma as the world leader. The group is separated by 615 points, with only 215 points between the Top 6.
Montanha seemed poised to make a push at the world No. 1 ranking when he won the Duluth Invitational before dropping into his slump.
“It is hard, but it doesn’t really change anything,” Montanha said. “I just drew a couple of wrong bulls there in Albuquerque. Everything else just fell apart and it didn’t work out good. I just try to forget all of that and start fresh and new. I am just going bull by bull.”
The second-year pro did say that the Easter Break couldn’t have come at a better time for him last week.
Being able to spend time with his friends and family, as well as having an Easter barbeque with some of the Brazilian bull riders on tour, was a good stress relief from the grind of the 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “It is great being home and to go to the gym and not really travel or anything. Mentally it was really good. This week I had no worries, was pain free and this is fresh. It is good to feel like this.”
In regards to any physical mistakes, Montanha said he is trying to ride lighter on the back of bulls this season.
Montanha wants to float on the back of the bulls ala two-time World Champion Justin McBride instead of trying to hunker down with his riding arm strength.
“I always looked up to him since that Camo (2005 World Finals) ride,” Montanha said. “As a kid, that got my attention. He has always been one of the best I have ever seen. He doesn’t really fight. He floats through a ride. I look at his rides and pay attention to what he did to try and inspire me to ride similar to that.”
Montanha has shown progress in his second season in the United States.
He is 18-for-40 (45 percent) with the Duluth win, two runner-up finishes and six Top-10 finishes. Montanha is well on his way to setting new career-highs in qualified rides and Top-10 finishes this year.
A year ago, Montanha was a talented rookie pursuing a Rookie of the Year title and went 32-for-70 (45.71 percent) on the premier series and had five Top-5 finishes and 11 Top-10s.
Now the stakes are higher a year later as he is a legitimate World Champion contender vs. a potential dark horse.
Montanha said those stakes weren’t a reason for his mini-slump and the added pressure will not be a factor in his pursuit of the $1 million championship.
“Not really,” Montanha concluded. “We just go every weekend. It doesn’t matter where you are sitting. You just pray to God to prepare for you the best bulls to ride and to have a good weekend.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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