FORT WORTH, Texas ― Early on there was a noticeable absence among the Top 10 riders.
Although the reigning two-time back-to-back World Champion Silvano Alves was atop the world standings, the vast majority of his fellow Brazilian riders were nowhere to be found.
Last year, seven Brazilians finished the 2012 season ranked in the Top 10 and the Top 6 finishers at the World Finals were all from Brazil - neither of which was a surprise given the dominating presence of the Killer B's in recent years.
However, in the past two weeks, the overall standings have begun to take on a familiar look.
"Everybody is tight in the points. I think everything going to change again every week."
Guilherme Marchi has gone from 38th to 23rd to ninth in the standings. Asked if he always thought it was only a matter time before he asserted himself as a viable contender, the 10-year veteran said, "I think so."
Marchi, who won the world title in 2008 and finished as the reserve champion four other times, said that after last year's World Finals he returned home to Brazil with his family. While he was there he not only didn't compete, but he also didn't train.
Upon his return he admitted he was out of shape and at his age, 30, it's taken longer to get back into condition.
Robson Palermo, who's won the World Finals event a record three times, including the past two years, is ranked seventh. Palermo won the first Built Ford Tough Series event of the season, in New York, and Marchi won last week in Sacramento, Calif.
The other three events were won by alternates ― Billy Robinson (Chicago), Shane Proctor (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Sean Willingham (Oklahoma City) ― which only made the top of the standings all the more stunning.
"It's good to see those guys ― Sean Willingham ― who have been out for a year, couple years, back in the top," said Palermo, who sees it as a motivation to ride hard. "There's going to be a lot of competition."
There have also been a number of injuries involving a typically healthy group of Brazilian riders.
Valdiron de Oliveira has missed the first five BFTS events, and will miss this week's event in Anaheim, Calif., but is expected to return to competition in St. Louis, Mo., after undergoing back surgery in the offseason. Fabiano Vieira has missed the past three events with a fractured right ankle and will likely miss two more ― Anaheim and St. Louis ― before returning in Kansas City.
Unfortunately, Palermo will miss this week's event in Anaheim.
He returned home to Brazil to undergo more than a week of rehab after dislocating his left and right shoulders last weekend in Sacramento.
Last week, prior to dislocating his right shoulder, Palermo said, "Pretty much this year everybody got in a slump a little bit, slow down and I have a little problem with my shoulder.
"It's funny to see, but it's all right."
That said, Palermo is confident his shoulders will hold up, "I'm going to be there. I'm going to be in the middle of the Top 5."
It's been well-documented how reliant the Brazilians are on one another when traveling and rooming together at events, as well as supporting each other in the locker room and behind the chutes. Marchi said he and the others have been affected by the absence of Oliveira and Vieira and could be affected this weekend by Palermo's absence.
All three finished in the Top 10 last year and bring a positive influence with them. Marchi made mention of Vieira having a big personality and said the 30-year-old, who at one point lived with Alves, is known for his lighthearted nature while still pushing fellow riders to achieve their full potential.
"We miss them," Marchi said. "They're pretty good guys and friends."
Palermo added, "Like Guilherme said, when everybody's together it makes us more strong."
After last week, two other Brazilians ― Agnaldo Cardozo, 12, and Marco Eguchi, 15 ― are ranked right outside of the Top 10. Edevaldo Ferreira is ranked 20th.
Four other are bunched together right outside of the Top 20: Renato Nunes, 23; Joao Vieira, 24; Emilio Resende, 25, and Eduardo Aparecido, 26. Vieira is 28th and seemingly won't need the three injury exemptions he earned, while Oliveira will have five exemptions to ride his way into the Top 35.
"Everybody is tight in the points," Marchi said. "I think everything is going to change again every week."
Marchi and Palermo also agreed the effect of the new point system on the standings also led to a slower-than-usual ascent up the standings.
None of the veterans competed as regularly at Touring Pro Division events or international events as some of the other younger riders. Marchi said he'd rather focus on winning "big money" and Palermo noted that, in the past, he's been injured at TPD events and does not plan enter any others this year.
Unlike past seasons, in which riders qualified for the World Finals based on money earned, this year the qualifiers will come from the same standings that determine the World Champion. The points that determine the world standings feature 100 percent of the points earned at BFTS events and 25 percent of the points earned at TPD and international events.
During the first few weeks, several riders who failed to qualify for the finals were among the Top 15 riders in the world. However, those points were accumulated over a two-month period in November and December.
After five BFTS events, the highest-ranked rider yet to compete at a BFTS event is Reese Cates, who is currently 31st.
"Patience," said Palermo, when asked about the long-range effect.
Because the season plays out over 10 months and not the first month, both feel that eventually the World Champion will be the rider who has the most success at BFTS events.
In fact, Marchi cautioned that some riders could wear themselves out before October.
"Oh yeah, for sure," agreed Palermo. "If you ride good here. You've got to ride here and for sure you're going to be world champ."
He concluded by adding, "I'm going to try to stay right here on the Built Ford Tough."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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