Commentary: Megan Jastrab was the coolest under pressure in Yorkshire
Jastrab described in great detail how she fended off the entire Lux Cycling team to win the junior national road race this summer. This spring she told us the story of beating a peloton of Belgian boys in a hectic kermesse race. (“We were much smoother through the corners than the boys.”)
Jastrab’s mom even told us the roots behind her daughter’s love of cycling and outdoor activities. (“We don’t really do TV. We wanted our kids to be outside.”)
At no point in those conversations, however, did anyone tell us an important fact about Megan Jastrab.
She has ice running through her veins.
Don’t let the bubbly personality and ear-to-ear grins fool you. Megan Jastrab is a cunning tactician cut from the same mold as the peloton’s most cutthroat champions, such as Alejandro Valverde or Marianne Vos. Look no further than her thrilling victory during Friday’s junior women’s road world championships as proof of her ability to remain cool and calm, even in the most stressful racing situations.
If you have the time, I emphatically recommend watching the final few kilometers from the race. Jastrab’s ice-cold tactics are on full display in the thrilling finale.
As one of the pre-race favorites, Jastrab knew she had a target on her back, which meant she needed to surprise the women’s field in order to win. Such an opportunity came in the final moments of the race, when Russian rider Aigul Gareeva, the recently-crowned junior TT world champion, sprung from the field on a gradual uphill with 2.2km to go.
Jastrab jumped on Gareeva’s wheel, and the two shot away from the field. Now, a nervous rider may have attacked Gareeva outright. A novice rider may have traded pulls with the Russian, whose TT win confirmed her as one of the strongest riders in the bunch. Not Jastrab. She pulled through once, and then glued herself to the Russian’s wheel until 300 meters to go. Yep, it was the stuff of Vos or Valverde.
Behind, the chase group got closer and closer and closer.
Then, Jastrab ratcheted up the stakes. She slowed and challenged Gareeva to a track sprint, just as the peloton thundered down the final straightaway only a few seconds behind. In this moment, Jastrab’s cunning was on full display. It was the hottest moment of the race, and Jastrab played—dare I say it—Russian Roulette with Gareeva.
Jastrab finally kicked at 100 meters remaining, just as the sprinters from the chasing group came into view. She left it so close, in fact, that Gareeva was caught and passed by two riders as they bolted from the group. Jastrab shot across the finish line just as the proverbial door closed behind her, with Julie De Wilde of Belgium and Lieke Nooijen of The Netherlands coming up just a few meters short.
As a child of the 1980s, I am prone to viewing life through the lens of Indiana Jones or Star Wars references. Megan Jastrab’s win reminded me of Lando Calrisian piloting the Millennium Falcon through the exploding Death Star in “Return of the Jedi,” or like Indiana Jones escaping the rolling boulder of doom in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Had she sprinted one second later, she would have burned up in the Death Star or been squashed by the boulder.
But she didn’t. Jastrab stayed cool and calm. She sprinted at the exact perfect moment, and as she accepted her rainbow jersey, Megan Jastrab flashed the world that bubbly grin.