By Colin Bane
Penn Newhard — a founding partner of Backbone Media, based in Carbondale, Colorado — will be mixing business with pleasure on race day when the USA Pro Challenge cyclists make their way over Independence Pass along the route from Gunnison to Aspen. He’s organizing a group ride with friends and colleagues from Woody Creek (near Aspen and the former home of the late Hunter S. Thompson) to the 12,095-foot summit of Independence Pass, where he’ll watch the racers go by while hobnobbing with his employees and some of his top clients, including representatives for POC Sports, Honey Stinger, and SmartWool. We caught up with him for some tips on how to make the most of Aspen while the race is in town.
Something Independent: Taking the day off to ride up to Independence Pass with your staff and clients to watch the USA Pro Challenge sounds like the kind of thing that could get a company named to the Outside Magazine Top 100 Best Places to Work list!
Penn Newhard: It’s great to be honored like that and we’re trying to live up to it, full steam ahead, working extra hard to keep things rolling. It was nice to get that honor for sure, and we’ve definitely seen an uptick in job applications this month! We work in the outdoors industry, snowsports, hunting, fishing, the beer markets, and tourism, and each of those is a reflection of the people who work for us: In a nutshell, we like to travel, drink beer, and hike, bike, ski, climb, fish… so it’s pretty fun and engaging work! The USA Pro Challenge is a nice convergence for us because we are a media agency that does public relations, media planning and buying, and social media in the active lifestyle space, and we have a number of clients who are either directly or indirectly involved in the race this year.
Aspen is the only host city on the USA Pro Challenge with an overnight this year, hosting the both the finish of Stage 3 and the start of Stage 4. Why do you think Aspen ended up being such a centerpiece of the race?
It’s a great event statewide, for sure, but it’s an especially fun event for Aspen to be involved with. Aspen has a great cycling community, from the club level on up, and a great cycling heritage. A lot of people here are very active riders, and it highlights a lot of the community aspects of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley in general. I know people are stoked to have the riders here overnight and to be able to host both a finish line and a start line. Being centrally located, with great riding in all directions, is something we’re pretty stoked about, and this is a great way to showcase it: the USA Pro Challenge is the closest thing we have here in Colorado to the major cycling tours over in Europe.
Do you have any sense of the impact an event like this has on the town and the local business community?
Cycling doesn’t draw the same numbers in the U.S. as it does in Europe, but you wouldn’t know it if you’re watching from Aspen. Any time you have world class athletes in town there’s inherent value there. You bring some of the best cyclists in the world to Aspen and have them stay overnight? It will definitely have an impact, and I expect it will grow and grow each year. For the total cycling geek it’s super exciting, but even for the more casual people who are just going out and enjoying it, it’s a great event. The USA Pro Challenge is a great showcase of Colorado mountain towns – and not just Aspen but also Durango and Telluride and Crested Butte and Gunnison and Beaver Creek – that have world-class cycling and fly-fishing and paddling and hiking and rock climbing and skiing and snowboarding. The race really shows off a lot of the great tourism aspects of Aspen and the entire State of Colorado.
Are you rooting for any rider in particular this year?
I thought George Hincapie’s performance last year was great – he won the Gunnison to Aspen stage in 2011 – and I know there are some local favorites. I guess if you pressed me on that I’d say Tejay van Garderen is a guy with some local roots [van Garderen now lives in Boulder, Colorado] that a lot of people are talking about, and I’d love to see him do well.
For folks who can’t join your crew up at Independence Pass, where do you think the best places to watch from will be?
A lot of people think you come down off the pass and – boom! – you’re right there at the finish line in Aspen, but all along the North Star Nature Preserve there’s still considerable racing to be done and that will be a terrific place to watch. You have the preserve there, you get to look up at Aspen Mountain, and that will be a terrific place. But certainly the epicenter is going to be right at the finish line. The Aspen Valley Ski Club is doing a huge bike corral there so you can park on the outskirts and ride your bike in, and I think it will be pretty exciting to be right there at the finish.
Where would you send friends who are in town to make sure they get a great taste of Aspen while they’re there?
One place that springs to mind for cycling fans is Fly Cyclery, which is right across from the gondola, half a block down. It’s a great small shop with pretty high-end product, and they do the best work in town. Fletcher Yaw, the owner, grew up here in the valley and was a very talented cyclist and ski racer growing up, and he wanted to do something that he was passionate about. He saw an opportunity to reach out to serious cyclists with fantastic products, and he’s been able to carve out a nice niche for himself here. Main Street Bakery is a mainstay in terms of great food and I’m sure it will be awfully busy. There’s also a great place called the Creperie, a block off of Main Street near the Hotel Jerome. Obviously in Aspen there’s world-class shopping and dining all over the place, but those are three places I’d recommend.
S|I is pleased to have writer Colin Bane authoring A Local’s Look at each stage of our On the Road with USA Pro Challenge tour. His work has been featured in ESPN.com, Westword, The Washington Post Magazine, Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Aviation Business Journal, Washington City Paper, and Bail Skateboard Culture. Colin is a skateboarder, snowboarder, action sports fan, and proud dad.