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Megan Jastrab’s start to life as a professional rider was far from simple but the Californian is finally finding her feet at the top of the sport.
Jastrab was due to graduate out of the junior ranks at the end of the 2020 season but wouldn’t race once on the road as the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. She turned pro with Team DSM in 2021, but the year would be dominated by preparation for the track program at the Olympic Games and she only contested a handful of events before the season was out.
Last year ultimately ended up being Jastrab’s first full season on the road and it is beginning to pay dividends this year with a strong classics campaign. However, the shorter Olympic cycle means she’s already trying to figure out how to balance her track and road ambitions and where her major focus lies.
“I struggled so much. The track definitely prepares you in a lot of ways, but it’s not the same,” Jastrab told VeloNews. “What was the hardest part about developing was that as my second year as a junior was canceled, so I didn’t race at all during that year and then I just did track in 2021.
“I think it would have been a much easier transition if I had 2020 to race on the road and keep those skills. Now, I’m trying to prioritize what I want. I need to decide if I want to do 50/50 or if I want to go all-in on the road or all-in on track again.”
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That balancing act is already ongoing after Jastrab squeezed in a trip to Cairo for the second round of the UCI Track Cycling Nations Cup during the classics and then she traveled to Milton, Canada for the final round last week.
In the middle of all of that Jastrab took some career-best finishes on the road with fourth at the Classic Brugge-De Panne, after setting up her teammate Pfeiffer Georgi to the win, and second at Gent-Wevelgem.
“I went to Cairo for the track race and then I had a little bit of a break, and I was worried coming back because I felt like I’ve been on two weeks’ vacation,” she said. “I did not expect that. I was hoping for some opportunities and good luck. But yeah, it’s really only my second year of racing in the elites.
“I feel like I was really learning how to be in the peloton last year, and sometimes it was a struggle with, do I belong here? Then that good feeling and the fitness starts to come back, and it felt like everything started to click at De Panne.”
Jastrab will ride both on the track and the road at the worlds in Glasgow later this year, which she says will inform her decision about doing the same for the Olympic Games next year.
Outside of her performances, one of Jastrab’s most memorable moments during the classics was a moment after Georgi had won Brugge-De Panne. An excited Jastrab turned to her teammate and exclaimed “I did an echelon.”
It was a moment that endeared her to many, but she is a bit embarrassed that it was caught on television. However, she had been so pleased with herself because her past experience of dealing with crosswinds and echelons had gone so badly.
Not only making the right echelons but forcing them, is a sign of Jastrab’s progression as a rider.
“I feel like an idiot,” she laughed, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I did Drenthe 8 [in 2022 -ed], it was a windy race and there ended up being echelons. Everyone said just keep riding towards the front, like always fight. I was like, I fought, but I was shelled. I finished that race and I thought ‘I don’t think echelons are my thing.’ I was broken after that. I missed every echelon, and I never was on, I was chasing in the gutter. It was a horrible feeling.
“Before De Panne, we knew there were going to be echelons we were going to force some and I was like, ‘okay, here we go.’ I made every echelon in De Panne and I was able to force a couple of them myself, oh my gosh, like, what it feels like. And you get it right you get it right. So, that’s why I was like so excited. I think it was about the experience, strength, and developing from last year.”
Jastrab is being afforded far more opportunities and responsibilities within a DSM team that underwent a significant change over the winter. Lorena Wiebes and some of the team’s most experienced riders left and were replaced with a cohort of promising young stars.
It means that the average age of the team has dropped from an already quite young 23 to just 21, making the 21-year-old Jastrab one of the older riders on the team. Despite still finding her place within the sport herself, she feels like she already has a motherly role within the team.
“I was like the mom last year now I’m really the mom. I’m going to turn into the grandma here,” she said. “Everyone’s really motivated, we have nothing to prove, but at the same time, we’re trying to make that leap. I have Pfeiffer to look up to or Charlotte [Kool], or anyone really on the team, Juliette [Labous] even, who already got lots of results and came through the juniors the same way as us.
“When the new girls come through, they’re younger and they can look to us and how we did it. If they’re struggling, or they’re nervous, we know what they need to hear and you can share that I think it keeps everyone really excited for it, and less nervous.”
Jastrab is now on a short break, but she will race at the RideLondon Classique toward the end of May. She’s also targeting the Giro d’Italia Donne again, where she’s hoping to notch up a few more big results.
Despite the growing responsibility she has, she’s not feeling the pressure to deliver and is still taking the opportunity to learn.
“I don’t really feel the pressure. I think that’s what’s nice about the team. It’s more we see it as opportunities. We’re all still so young and developing,” Jastrab said. “We learn from mistakes really easily. We have all these opportunities to go for the wins or go for these podiums, and it’s really supportive and motivating.
“You have to believe in yourself and if it comes together on race day comes together. I don’t really feel like I have a lot of pressure yet.”