Diana Peñuela on nutrition, race-day prep, and owning Colombian nats.

Photos: @lavueltaesasi
With Diana Peñuela

INTRODUCTION

Diana Peñuela’s path to road cycling wasn’t straightforward, and that’s not only because she went through speed skating and mountain biking before becoming a roadie. She’s spoken frequently about the roadblocks and lack of support she encountered during her early career as a female Colombian cyclist, but she persevered.

After 11 years as a pro and in her third season with DNA Pro Cycling, it’s safe to say perseverance paid off. Her 2024 is looking to continue that narrative – she already registered a strong showing with a gold and a silver in Colombia’s national TT and road race championships, respectively.

In a recent conversation, she walked us through her approach to the time trial, including her take on the course, her race-day rituals and nutrition, and her plans for the rest of 2024. (We also learned that she has a cat named Ginger, but that’s admittedly not relevant to her palmarès, so we’ll just mention it in passing here and then get to the racing.)

A LONG-AWAITING WIN

Though she’d prefer to have also won the road race, finally landing gold in the time trial is something of a milestone for Diana. “This is my first title in the time trial,” she told us, “after being very close last year and in 2020.” She finished in second at both of those editions.

She also already has two tricolor jerseys in the road race, and – as evidenced by her string of top-fives over the past decade – she’s been animating almost every edition of that race since before she even turned pro. The road race was already kind of her race. Now the TT is, too.

For the 2024 TT, Diana (and every other competitor) had been anticipating a flat event. That’s not what we think of when we think of Colombian cycling, and a late alteration corrected reality to match our assumptions.

“The course was changed one week before the race,” Diana explained, “from a completely flat and straight course to a hilly and more demanding one.” The new route followed 26km with 445m of climbing, topping out at 2,800m.

According to Diana, the new course meant there was nowhere to hide: “Big roads, headwind, and three important uphill segments followed by downhills, where I hit above 80kph.” It was full gas or it was nothing. Diana chose full gas, and fueled accordingly.

RACE-DAY NUTRITION

For Diana, race day starts the day before the race, with a simple meal of carbs like pasta topped with an equally simple blend of “olive oil and some parmigiano.” Nothing surprising there, but the next morning begins with something less conventional: a cold shower. After that, she gets back into familiar territory with some Yoga practice, and then it’s time to get back to carb loading.

“My nutrition plan for the day of the time trial was to eat breakfast three hours before my start time – carbohydrates only,” she said. “I took some bread with jam and a decaf coffee.” The decaf coffee jumped out to us, but as a consummate pro, Diana has a good reason.

“I like to stop drinking normal coffee one week before to feel more power from the PreRace during races,” Diana explained, noting that PreRace isn’t the only pre-race supplement she uses. “After my first meal, I always take OptygenHP and MultiV-PRO.”

After breakfast, Diana’s pre-race rituals continue. “I start with dynamic stretching and band work,” she said, followed by three 10-minute intervals on the trainer: “An easy spin for 10 minutes followed by 10 minutes of heavy load and a 10-minute mix of hard efforts and easy spin.” 

Half-an-hour before the start, Diana knocks back a serving of PreRace. The trainer warm-up is also where Diana loads her fuel for TT efforts of 40-45 minutes, taking 60g of carbs from a bottle of EFS-PRO. The final piece of pre-race prep is a cool-down before getting fully kitted up and heading to the start line.

Given the nature of nationals, Diana’s event wasn’t over after she’d won the time trial, so her fueling strategy didn’t end at the finish line.

“Because the road race is just the day after the TT, I knew that I needed to be very conscious about recovering my body swiftly and fueling my muscles with carbohydrates and good sources of protein,” she explained. “I immediately took Ultragen to accelerate recovery and refuel my muscles, and in the afternoon, I took HALO to reduce the inflammation and soreness from the effort.”

2024: GOALS + GRATITUDE

Given that it’s an Olympic year, you might expect Diana’s biggest goal to be qualifying for and competing in Paris this summer. You’d be right.

“If I have the chance to go to the Olympic Games, then that for sure will be my biggest goa,” she confirmed while also emphasizing that Paris isn’t the only goal – and there’s a lot of race calendar between now and July.

“For the moment I am focusing to have a good season with my DNA Pro Cycling team at the important races we have in the US, Europe – and for sure in Colombia.” Obviously, this focus has already paid gold and silver dividends in Colombia, and with the form she showed on the punchy nats courses, she’s set to be a critical piece for DNA’s global campaign.

Diana will also be spending some time revisiting the off-road scene with Utah’s Belgian Waffle Ride. She got her start in cycling after transitioning from speed skating to mountain biking, but knobby tires and singletrack lost their appeal when she dabbled in road racing – and won her first race.

She sees racing beyond the tarmac as an opportunity to return to her roots, challenge herself, and just have fun on the bike. “I am so excited for the opportunity,” she said, referring to her singletrack beginnings and telling us that she’s “always found it so fun to race on dirt and technical terrains.”

BWR aside, there is one other gravel race she’s got her eye on.

“My favorite race ever is the Strade Bianche,” she said. Though her best placing to date was 27th in 2020 – and she hasn’t raced on Tuscany’s limestone gravel since 2021 – Strade Bianchi is still at the top of her list: “I dream some time to race with my DNA Pro Cycling Team there!”

Race goals and ambitions aside, Diana’s ultimate approach to cycling is less about wins and losses and more about, simply, the bike – what it’s done for her, what she’s done for it, and how she is able to contribute to her team.

“I like to be thankful as soon as I wake up,” she concluded, “because I consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I love and receive so much support.” As a trailblazer for women’s cycling in Colombia, Diana has made that opportunity much more attainable for younger pros and future generations of cyclists alike.

February 08, 2024 — First Endurance

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