There aren’t that many top Canadian riders in the professional peloton. Israel – Premier Tech Roland’s Maggie Coles-Lyster is one of them and the 24-year-old sprinter has big ambitions for the years to come.
But how does a young Canadian girl decide to get into cycling in the first place?
“When I was growing up, my dad had a bike shop, sponsoring a team, and when I was 7-8 years old, he would go and support them at races. He would get up a 6 am to go stand in the feed zone and I wouldn’t let him go without me. I just wanted to be there and be around it”, Coles-Lyster explains.
She went on to do cyclocross, road and track cycling at a young age, as well as horse show jumping, before making the decision to focus on the track and road.
In 2016, Coles-Lyster won bronze in the omnium at the junior world championships and the next year, she became Canada’s first-ever junior world champion on the track, winning gold in the points race as well as silver in the omnium.
“After taking silver, I wasn’t satisfied at all. I said to myself that I simply couldn’t leave without a gold medal, so in the points race I just gave everything. I had never dug so deep in a race before and I’m still so proud of that race. I even crashed twice but I always got back up. After that win, I got so hungry for more.”
Unfortunately, the following season was ruined by a series of bad crashes and a couple of concussions, which took her nearly a year and a half to fully recover from. And then the Covid pandemic hit.
“I think the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me. I could just focus on my training and on getting strong again, as well as doing some school work and getting my groove and my confidence back. I joined an American based team in those years. Our season was mostly built around doing criteriums, which I think really helped me to become such a strong up-and-coming sprinter, as you are always fighting for positions and figuring out how to do execute the best possible sprints.”
Last year, Coles-Lyster won the Canadian road race championships and finished fifth in the Commonwealth Games. “Those two results made me really want to get back into road racing in Europe again. I love the criteriums but I could feel I was ready for that next challenge, so I moved to Europe and found a base in Girona, Spain, which has been great for me.”
Despite being caught up in the difficult situation with ZAAF Cycling Team, she still managed to do very well in the beginning of the season this year, with several strong results in the sprints as well as placing 13th in Gent-Wevelgem and sprinting to eighth place in Scheldeprijs. In May, Coles-Lyster joined Israel – Premier Tech Roland and most recently, she finished third overall in the sprints competition in Tour of Scandinavia.
Asking Coles-Lyster to describe her characteristics as a rider, she didn’t need much time to think of an answer.
“I think I’m a really bold sprinter. I’m not afraid to get in there and get boxy. Especially considering this is my first season back in Europe. I’ve kind of thrown myself into the deep end, just hopping on trains where I know I’m going to get pushed around and either sink or swim.
“I’m also not scared to push back. So many of the sprinters I’m up against here, I’ve raced with on the track. So even though I’m doing all these road races for the first time this year, I’m pretty confident going up against the other sprinters because I know how they ride. I’m with them on the track, pushing back, and I think having that confidence and knowledge of the peloton from the track side is super helpful.”
Looking ahead, Coles-Lyster has big goals for the future.
“Winning a Classic is definitely on my bucket list and hopefully, I’ll see that happening within the next couple of years. I also really want the gold medal in the omnium on the track. That has always been on the top of my list. Especially before road cycling became such a big part of my life. Also, being a sprinter, I dream to of being like Lorena Wiebes one day, having an epic season like she has had and being able to win any race I line up for. If I had to pick a race, it would probably be Paris-Roubaix. Winning that on the velodrome is just the best of both worlds, right?”
The next race for Maggie Coles-Lyster is Simac Ladies Tour, taking place on September 5-10.