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New Canadian bull-riding tour showcases 'the toughest sport on dirt'

Brady Sims of Holt, MO rides a bull called Heaven's Basement for 89 points to win the Calgary stop of the PBR Monster Energy Canada Tour at the Agrium Western Events Centre on September 24th, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-PBR Canada, Covy Moore, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
September 30, 2016 - 9:38 AM

TORONTO - Taking a rodeo show across Canada is like touring with a rock band. And if you're running the PBR Monster Energy Canada Tour, you need bulls and a lot of dirt to do it.

Some 45 tonnes of dirt, to be exact. Chris Bell, general manager of PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Canada, estimates it takes some 30 dump trucks to ensure that the arena floor is covered by at least eight inches (20.3 centimetres) for the protection of the tour's bull-riders.

The PBR has held events in Canada since 1996 but this marks the first national tour.

"First year (we're) very happy," Bell said. "And we're really encouraged to see the momentum that's building from east to west."

The next stop is Saturday in Abbotsford, B.C.

Americans Brant Atwood (Ottawa), Reese Cates (London, Ont.), Matt Werries (Winnipeg) and Brady Sims (Calgary) won the previous stops. Ty Pozzobon of Merritt, B.C., leads the overall points race ahead of Dakota Buttar of Kindersley, Sask., and Cody Coverchuk of Meadow Lake, Sask.

The 2016 tour started Aug. 20 and concludes Oct. 14-15 in Saskatoon (an event scheduled for Hamilton was postponed to 2017 due to logistical issues). In all, Bell hopes to have 14 to 16 shows in 2016-17 leading into a national championship in Edmonton on Nov. 10, 2017.

Each show features 25 bull-riders, although the two-day Saskatoon event will have at least 30. At the one-day events, the 25 competitors go through a long round before a final round of 10 with a purse of $25,000 at stake.

The PBR's main circuit is the Built Ford Tough Series in the U.S., which features the organization's top 35 bull-riders. It also has tours one level below in Canada, Australia, Brazil and Mexico as well as the second-tier BlueDEF Velocity Tour in the U.S.

The points-winner on the Canadian tour advance to the Velocity Tour World Finals in Oct. 29-31 in Las Vegas. The top five from there go on to compete Nov. 2-6 at the Built Ford Tough World Finals also in Vegas. There the event winner earns US$250,000 and the series points leader picks up a US$1-million bonus.

The PBR was formed in 1992, when 20 bull-riders from the rodeo circuit each kicked in US$1,000 and formed their own breakaway circuit focused on their specialty. The PBR calls it "the toughest sport on dirt."

Last year, the organization was purchased by WME-IMG for a reported US$100 million.

Monster Energy signing on as tour sponsor suggests PBR is looking to add a new generation of younger fans to its core support.

"It's a great night out," said Bell, who spent 14 years with Molson Coors before joining PBR Canada in January. "It's excellent action. A rock concert combined with a live sporting event ... They're entertained for two-plus hours every night with THE original action sport."

Tickets on the Canadian tour range from $25 to $75, with shows averaging some 5,000 fans.

The tour uses 40-45 bulls at each one-day event. Some 30 bulls were brought east for the Ontario leg of the Canadian circuit in August and housed on a farm just outside London, Ont.

Veteran bull-rider Scott Schiffner, a former Canadian champion and Cowboy of the Year, calls the new Canadian tour a big step forward for the sport.

"It brings more to the sport and lets people who that maybe weren't bull-riding fans before to get the opportunity to have a taste of it and hopefully, stay being fans," said the 36-year-old father of three from Strathmore, Alta.

Bull-riding on TV is "pretty exciting," he added. "Well it's 20 times more exciting live."

Schiffner has long been showcasing the sport. He also accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a Canadian trade mission to China in 2012 at the request of the Chinese government and gave a private bull-riding demonstration to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their 2011 Calgary Stampede visit.

"He is the quintessential true Canadian champion and has, I'm sure, broken many a bone and had many an injury to help get this sport where it is in Canada today," Bell said.

Schiffner plays down the injury toll of riding a 2,000-pound bull.

"If feel pretty good, for the most part," he said of his body. "I get up in the morning and I have some aches and pains here and there. But I've got some other friends too who are my age that have never rode bulls or never did anything exciting their whole life and they get up and they have aches and pains too. So I wouldn't trade it for the world.

"When I got into this sport, I never once looked 20 years down the road at what I'd feel like. And here it is 20 years later and I'm still getting on bulls and I feel great. But Father Time doesn't stop for anybody, it doesn't matter if you're a bull rider or sit behind a desk, it's inevitable."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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