Steamboat 72-year-old takes 2nd in division at Leadville 100, adding to his accolades

For the 12th time in his mountain bike racing career, Steamboat Springs resident Daniel Smilkstein took to the start line of the Leadville Trail 100 on Aug. 13. 

Smilkstein finished the 100-mile race in 11 hours and 34 minutes, earning second place in the men’s 70+ division and his seventh career divisional podium. Through his dozen appearances in the event he’s accrued five first-place finishes, one second-place finish and one third-place finish in his respective age group.

This year, Smilkstein took a more mellow approach to his training than previous years, but was still mentally and physically prepared to take on the challenge. 

“Last year, I was much more structured, but I did enough,” Smilkstein said. “I did enough riding, I did like 300,000 feet of climbing and enough miles. During the race, I actually never looked at my watch. I didn’t know my time until I crossed the finish line, which maybe knowing your time is a motivator too.”

Smilkstein is used to finishing at a faster pace than he raced this year but said he tried to stay reasonably comfortable and still was able to finish in under 12 hours, so he was happy.

A total of 10 racers competed in the 70+ age group last week with only three finishing, but Smilkstein said it was nice to see the field continue to grow. In 2021, he was the division winner for men over 70, but only a handful competed. 

No matter how many times he races in the Leadville 100, Smilkstein doesn’t downplay the mental warfare one must face to complete the ride, but said it felt like a quick race. 

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“It’s absolutely great,” Smilkstein said. “It made no difference, it was just, wow it seemed like it went by pretty fast. It’s a long ways, and on the way out you’re thinking, ‘God I gotta come back and do this the other way?’” 

Smilkstein competed in the race for the first time at 44 years old and participated in the first eight Leadville 100 races. Back then, he was finishing in less than nine hours and took as high as 16th place overall.

Since then, the event has grown from a couple hundred participants to nearly 2,000. 

Smilkstein has competed in the event in his 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s while taking a 9 year break from the event from 2002 to 2011 and another 10 year break later on.

After completing his 10th race, he earned the 1,000 mile buckle which he says is so big, it would put a rodeo cowboy to shame. 

The one constant over the years has been the support of his family members who love to come and watch him compete. 

“My family has been there every year,” Smilkstein said. “The kids, grandkids, it’s great getting across the line and doing it. This year we had some rain and cold and all the usual things you get in the mountains.”

No matter what year, the feeling is still the same for Smilkstein. He says he would consider coming back to race in his 80’s to knock another decade off the list. 

He says as long as he’s still pedaling, he will come back at any age. 

“This age group goes officially from 70 to 120, so I’m gonna come back at 120,” Smilkstein said. “I think I’ll take it.”

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