From the Olympics to the Spring Classics, Megan Jastrab desires every part
Megan Jastrab's first season in the junior ranks was extremely successful. She won almost every race she started including the 2019 world title both on the road and on the track (in Madison and Omnium). COVID-19 prevented Jastrab from shining in the rainbow jersey as the 2020 juniors barely had any races, but the race-free year turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"Normally, I would have only had six months to prepare for the Olympic Games after my age limit (of 18 years) expired. Now I'm one and a half years late," says 19-year-old Jastrab. "During this time I grew as an athlete and as a person."
Jastrab is one of the most exciting young riders but we won't be seeing her race in her new Team DSM kit much this year. At least not until August. This year it's all about qualifying for the Olympic Games. She met her new DSM teammates during a winter training camp, but that didn't go as planned.
"I have COVID-19," she says from the USA Cycling Training Center in Colorado. “I flew to the first camp in Europe with the new team. The team protocol had me quarantined and then symptoms started on day five and I tested positive on day eight. It must have been home on my last day before traveling to Europe that I caught it.
“I only saw my teammates waving to me in front of the window of the team house in the Netherlands. Some people keep testing positive after a few tests and I was the lucky one. That meant I couldn't travel to Spain with the team at all and flew back to the US when I finally tested negative. "
Jastrab's symptoms were not mild. She had a loss of taste and smell, but also shortness of breath and chest pain.
"The chest pain was bad and it felt like people were sticking knives in my chest," she says. “It was also scary because I was concerned about long-term damage to my heart and lungs. Thankfully, all of the scans, tests, and blood work were clear again. "
Jastrab won the Junior World Championship in Harrogate in 2019.
Jastrab joined the USA Cycling Team at Altitude in Colorado and will be focusing on the route for the coming months. After their camp derailed the preseason due to COVID, returning to the US meant Jastrab's first training camp was a real shock to the system. However, the hard work has now started in earnest. She hopes to compete in both the newly added Madison for women and in the team pursuit for Team USA at the upcoming Olympics. The American women won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics and are the reigning world champions.
"I never did a team pursuit in a race because I was too young," says Jastrab. “I love the event. It's real teamwork and that's what I like about cycling in general. It's all about the race day execution and it's very scientific. Other track events like the Madison Race are about luck, but a team pursuit is about training everything to get it perfect. "
Jastrab hopes to secure a place in the strong team chase quartet. Jennifer Valente, Chloé Dygert, Emma White and Lily Williams won the world title in Berlin in 2020. Jastrab joins this quartet along with Kendall Ryan and Christina Birch on the longlist for the Olympic event.
There is a lot of firepower among these seven drivers and some world titles between them. Like Jastrab, Dygert and Valente were Junior World Champions. Both drivers have won further world championship titles as elite drivers. This is also a goal that Jastrab has himself, whether on the road or on the velodrome.
"It's very helpful to be on the same team as her," she says. “They are very open and know what it takes (to become an elite world champion). They tell me it takes time and that I should take my time. You both encourage me. "
In Rio de Janeiro, Kelly Catlin was part of the American team that won the silver medal. Tragically, Catlin committed suicide in 2019 at the age of just 23. Jastrab received the Kelly Catlin Fund Scholarship to help make her Olympic dreams come true. She also had a personal relationship with Catlin – the loss of her former rally teammate was an important moment in Jastrab's life.
"Kelly was a special person, she was so gifted," says Jastrab. “She had this amazing personality. It was hard when I heard of her death. She was my roommate in my first rally team camp. She combined her college education with a sports career and was a huge influence on me. Losing her was hard. We really need to check in each other more often, especially now in these COVID times. "
Like Catlin, Jastrab is competitive both athletically and academically. After graduating from high school, Jastrab began studying nursing, which she is now studying in two different courses: economics and movement sciences.
"I've always loved school," she says with an almost apologetic smile. “Learning now can be stressful at times, but it helps me take my mind off cycling. These are my best years in sports and doing clinical nursing work didn't work so I switched. I now take online courses, but luckily, I'm taking a lot of things I learned in nursing into my exercise science major. Many nutrition studies, for example, have cycling as a subject of study. "
The USA Cycling Foundation has distributed grants from the Kelly Catlin Fund, created in honor of the late national team athlete, to members of the Olympic Long Team @JastrabMegan and @ Kendall_Ryan92.
Further information: https://t.co/bxZQVEtz6O pic.twitter.com/K4tvSd9wtI
– USA Cycling (@usacycling) February 9, 2021
Although Jastrab is receiving a base salary for signing on a UCI Women & # 39; s World Tour (she is with DSM for 2021 and 2022), she is fully aware that she needs a plan B alongside her cycling plan A.
"Cycling itself is a short-term task," she says. “With injuries, things can change instantly. I also don't want to be stuck in a place I don't like. The course balances the mental and physical side of my life. "
When cycling women, things change quickly. The base salary, which will gradually be balanced with that of the male WorldTour riders by 2024, is an important step, but Jastrab is realistic in their expectations too.
"These are exciting times in women's cycling," she says. "It's amazing what is happening with a women's Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, the women's Vuelta. Women fight for change. It also motivates me and of course I support change, but changes take time. We can't do everything Change the night. Small steps lead to big things. "
Jastrab in the rainbow after winning the 2019 Junior Road title.
Jastrab is part of an exciting new generation of American drivers. You and Quinn Simmons are the youngest Junior World Champions (there were no Junior World Championships in 2020). Chloé Dygert won an elite world title at the 2019 World Championships in Harrogate and the USA and prevailed against traditional cycling countries like the Netherlands. Young drivers like Matteo Jorgenson, Brandon McNulty and DSM teammate Kevin Vermaerke are already showing their talents at WorldTour level. Jastrab seems to be doing it too.
Since the juniors go straight from the U19 to the elite (there is no U23 women category), it is difficult to prevail, especially since there were no races in 2020. Jastrab is one of the few young American women who get a chance at the highest level.
"It's an exciting time for American cycling, but cycling is still a very small and also an expensive sport," she says. “I was lucky enough to sign with DSM in early 2020, but it's a lot more difficult for other former juniors, especially now that the US doesn't have many races at all. We showed at Harrogate (2019 Worlds) that this is possible, but now it's also up to USA Cycling to come up with new plans for these young riders so they can prove themselves. "
While her focus will be on winning the USA Cycling Team to Tokyo – the closing date will be in June – Jastrab is also thinking about her debut with Team DSM and her further development as a road rider.
"After Tokyo, I should have the stamina. If I go to Europe after the Olympics, I'm not on my hind foot," she says. “I've also heard that some races will be postponed so there may still be some races left for me.
"I want to be an all-round driver," she says of her future. "Of course I have this strong sprint to play and it won't go away." But I also like to focus on tough races, the small hills and the bad weather conditions. "
In other words, Jastrab is scrutinizing the Spring Classics. She was a team leader for the US Juniors when they raced in Europe in 2019, but she's also a team player at heart. With other fast women like Lorena Wiebes, Susanne Andersen and the winner of the Tour of Flanders, Coryn Rivera, in the team, Jastrab also has to slip into the role of the support driver, especially as a neo-pro.
"There is so much to learn in Team DSM," says Jastrab. “You are eager to support me in my development as a driver. I only met a few of them behind the window (in COVID quarantine) but all of them were very supportive and when I signed all my new teammates sent messages. I enjoy working with a team because it gives me great pleasure to do the work for someone else to get the win. You cannot win them all by yourself. "
Megan Jastrab won't win all of them, but with the talent, intelligence, mental and physical strength of the young California driver, she will be a name to see in the biggest races on the calendar.
And here's something to think about: As a little girl, Jastrab found it stupid and boring to watch a peloton ride through France for hours in the middle of summer. In a few years, this little girl could win a stage or more in the new Tour de France for women.