Maple Ridge cyclist sets sights on racing season

Maggie Coles-Lyster competes in women’s Madison in track cycling at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games on August 5, 2019. Photo by Dave Holland/COC

Maggie Coles-Lyster grew up seeing banners of local athletes hanging at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre. 

Back then, she coveted the accomplishments of equestrian athletes like Natalie Jones and Jennifer McKenzie.

“I would always go and look at them,” she says of the banners featuring her favourite local athletes,” she says. “Oh my gosh, I want to be up there with them one day.”

At that time it was for horses, but this fall, she’ll be recognized for her prowess on the bike. 

The 2017 junior world track champion was recently named a 2021 Hometown Hero.

She will be recognized alongside 2020 inductees Sarah Hopkins and Brian Malfesi — both flatwater kayakers — during a ceremony this fall.

The Hometown Hero Awards recognize local Ridge Meadows athletes who have gone on to compete in their sport internationally. The list of recipients draws from a host of sports including timbersports, fly fishing, hockey, baseball and softball. There’s more than 40 athletes in the Hometown Hero family including nine Olympians and Paralympians like Canadian women’s soccer team goalie Karina LeBlanc, who earned bronze at the 2012 Olympics and retired in 2016.

Coles-Lyster is a special breed of cyclist. She competes at an elite level both on the track with Canada’s national team, and on the road with DNA Pro, a women’s cycling team based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Maggie Coles-Lyster competes in women’s omnium in track cycling at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games on August 3, 2019. Photo by Dave Holland/COC

During the racing season, Coles-Lyster travels a lot. There’s usually a race every weekend, and as a multi-disciple athlete, she competes often.

“There’s quite a bit of co-ordination involved,” she says. “It’s just a lot of conversations on both sides and negotiating what’s going to work. 

When The Ridge connected with the high performance athlete, she had just touched down in Ghent, Belgium for a track event with the national team. Her season kicked off the week before in Alabama with DNA Pro.

Coles-Lyster is a veteran traveller. She’s been on the racing circuit since her teens and hasn’t taken many breaks. In addition to her equipment and clothes, she always travels with her yoga mat, journal and a speaker — comfort items.

“I don’t go anywhere without my speaker,” she says. “I love having music playing while I’m doing things.”

She is also a coffee aficionado and likes to bring beans from home to brew in her Aeropress. Lately, it’s been Matchstick medium or dark espresso, but she has also brought 24th Parallel in the past. 

“You can’t settle for coffee when you’re on the road,” she says. “You never know when you’ll have access to good coffee.”

Coles-Lyster was travelling with teammate Miriam Brouwer in Scotland when the world shut down due to the pandemic. It was five hours before her race was to start and it was cancelled. She was unable to change her flights as others scrambled to book, so she hung out cycling before heading to California to spend a few months with family. 

The pandemic forced the athlete to take a break from racing. As it turns out, that was a good thing.

In 2018, Coles-Lyster had a series of crashes and three concussions within six months. She says even four years ago, there wasn’t the same knowledge around returning to compete with concussions and she thinks she rushed her recovery.

“I didn’t realize how affected I was by those crashes until I started racing again,” she says.

Coles-Lyster was knocked unconscious during the first crash at a track race in Copenhagen, breaking a few ribs and puncturing her lung in the process. For the next year, she had daily flashbacks of the moment she woke up on the track.

It took her a long time to recover and she sought out alternative treatments like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. The psychotherapy allowed her to move past the trauma of those crashes.

But she also had to regain her race confidence. 

“The less experienced and slower riders end up at the back part of the peloton. That’s where the accidents usually happen,” she says. “But your body doesn’t really know that. You know that in your head, but I would be in a sprint and I would essentially pull myself out of the sprint and end up at the back of the peloton and not really have any control over that or realize how or why that was happening. In my head I know I need[ed] to be at the front.”

By January 2020, “I felt totally back to my old racing self,” she says.

She had her first UCI Elite Women’s podium at the Tour de Gila, sprinting to second in the criterium in 2019, and in 2021 caught the attention of industry publication VeloNews, which wrote that she’d “come into her own.”

It turns out that a forced racing break in 2020 was good for her. She had been racing non-stop since her teens and had never been able to just put in a solid training base and build what cyclists call their “engine.”

“The pandemic gave me that opportunity to step back, live at home for a bit, decompress, get a normal routine,” she says. “And then get a good long training block and I came into 2021 stronger than I’ve ever been.”

It also gave her a chance to work on some courses for school. She is working on her undergrad with a major in biology and a minor in kinesiology with the goal of going into vet school and specializing as an aquatic vet after she’s done racing—whenever that may be.

Coles-Lyster also added some more certifications to her bag of tricks. She completed her 200-hour registered yoga teacher certification as well as a personal training certification. 

The meditation and breathwork aspect of yoga has come in handy during her cycling training as well. “The more I would sit and meditate, the better I seem to be able to get through the longer sessions on the bike,” she says. 

This season, she’s hoping to continue building her race confidence on the bike and is training to win a medal at this fall’s Commonwealth Games.

She’s back competing this weekend after another crash during the Tour de Gila criterium a few weeks back. Coles-Lyster will be joining the DNA Pro Cycling team as its only Canadian suiting up for the Joe Martin Stage Race,  the oldest amateur stage race in the U.S.

One of her major goals this year is a podium at the event. The race began on May 19 and will wrap up on May 22. Cycling Weekly called her and teammate, Colombian national champion Diana Carolina Peñuela “fierce competition” for other teams on the final stage of the race, the criterium. 

That race will be livestreamed and you can tune into the action here.

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