Canadian sprinter Maggie Coles-Lyster has come into her own in 2021

Balancing the road and track, the Canadian sprinter has emerged this season as a dynamic force on the road with her eyes set on Paris Olympics in 2024.

Photo: Courtesy Maggie Coles-Lyster

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Maggie Coles-Lyster turned heads on the road scene at the 2019 Tour of the Gila racing for the Canadian National Team, sprinting to second behind Chloé Dygert in the downtown criterium. The performance earned her a 2-year contract with DNA Pro Cycling. After multiple world championship medals at the world junior track championships, including the points race rainbow jersey in 2017, she wanted to further develop her skills on the road.

“Road has always been a part of what I have done at a very young age,” Coles-Lyster said, speaking to VeloNews ahead of the USA Crits stop in El Paso. “I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia, so I grew up racing BC Superweek up there. I did it for the first time at age 14, so it’s always been a part of what I have done.”

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The 22-year-old Canadian began racing at the age of 8, trying her hand at multiple disciplines before discovering her strengths on the track and road. She had to learn early on how to balance the two, spending many months traveling and racing with little time for solid training blocks in between. After getting through the pandemic, she was ready to get back to racing and testing her strength and skills against the best.

DNA focused their goals for 2021 on the USA Crits series, since North American stage racing continued to struggle through the pandemic. The circuit proved to be a real battle throughout the season with both Kendall Ryan and Skylar Schneider racing for L39gion of Los Angeles dominated the early part of the season after recently stepping down from the World Tour.

“Having riders like Kendall and Skylar, they’re such incredible riders and so strong,” she said. “Coming back into racing this year for me, and being right there on the podium, and winning at Armed Forces right off the bat was just, wow!

“These are riders that I remember coming up to at BC Superweek. They were my absolute idols and role models, and now I’m there mixing in with them. There is so much to learn from them, and how to beat them. There has been a lot of figuring out,” she said.

Like many riders after the pandemic, Coles-Lyster wasn’t sure where her fitness would be after so many months out of racing. Riders had either overtrained and were burned out or had rested and came into the season with fresh legs and a clear mind, ready to compete.

“There was definitely a bit of a shock to the system there, for many reasons,” she explained. “I think last year for me personally was a very good year. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t race, but since being a junior I never really got a long training block between track and road to just train and get strong. So that really benefitted me to have that; it was a blessing in disguise.”

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She turned to Strava to keep her motivated during long training rides, went to school, and got some other life experiences that she had been missing. Settling into a new pace at home, it was a challenge to get back into the routine of going to the races and being away from home. USA Crits had also announced a condensed season, with a challenging 8-week block of races starting with Tulsa Tough in June.

“It’s weird because I spent so many years on the road in this lifestyle, living with different people, going from one race to the next,” she said. “I’m not someone who gets emotional when I leave home, but in the beginning, it was a transition trying to get my groove back.”

She was able to start the season earlier than most, racing track before the USA Crits circuit kicked off in the summer. In the opening race of the season, the Armed Forces Classic, Coles-Lyster garnered a win on day 2 which secured her overall win in the omnium ahead of a strong field that included both Ryan and Schneider.

Soon after at the opening of the USA Crits series at Tulsa Tough, she would earn another two podium spots, finishing second behind Schneider. The wins gave her a boost of confidence that would move her into the lead of the Primal Best Young Riders jersey, and eventually bumping her up to third overall ahead of the finals at Winston-Salem.

She credits her success on the track for her build up this season on the circuit.

“They complement each other very well,” she explains. “Crits relies so much on having good technical abilities and being able to handle your bike. On the track, you’re shoulder to shoulder with people, you have no brakes, so you quickly learn good bike skills.”

DNA Pro Cycling will head into the finals next week, defending their lead in the team competition and Coles-Lyster’s lead in the Best Young Rider jersey, while hoping to bump her up in the overall Colavita orange leader standings.

“It’s sad that it’s getting to the end of the season already, it feels like it has just flown by,” she said. “It’s actually my first year doing the whole USA Crits series. As much as I talk about the rivalry going back and forth, between L39gion and others like Colavita and Team Wolfpack, everybody is just so nice and welcoming. It’s such a good camaraderie in the sport and in the peloton.”

She had a few bumps along the way, including a close call in a bad crash at the Salt Lake City Criterium earlier in the season, with several injuries to her face and nose. Luckily, she came away with only a few bruises and road rash, joking that she should take up boxing after learning she has such tough facial structure.

“Obviously it’s been a strange year with few stage races – Joe Martin [Stage Race] was the only stage racing we did,” she said. “USA Crits has been a very important goal of ours as a D1 team, and to do well as a team overall. We’ve been hitting those goals except for some unfortunate crashes.”

DNA Pro Cycling has confirmed to Velonews that her contract that was set to expire at the end of the season has been extended through 2022.  For now, her focus is continued development on the road, getting over to Europe and racing.

“That’s definitely a goal in the next several years,” she adds. “I’m also working towards the 2024 Olympics in track, hoping for the omnium, madison, and team pursuit. We saw riders on the road doing exceptionally well on the track if you look at the German team that won this year in style. They’re all WorldTour riders. It bodes really well moving forward, to balance the two.”

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