There are big hopes for U.S. talent Megan Jastrab, but don’t expect to see her topping a WorldTour podium just yet. In her first full year in Europe, she has been putting in the hard miles for her DSM teammates, learning the ropes.
Her role has been as a domestique, sacrificing herself, positioning leaders and doing part of the lead-out for sprinter Lorena Wiebes. In 2022, she has contributed to eight wins for the rapid Dutchwoman.
“It’s always nice riding for a team because I think cycling gets the stigma that the person who wins did it all themselves. It’s really good to have a close-knit group of girls, who you’re willing to die for on the bike. Your race can be over at halfway or the first climb an hour in, but you do so much for the team’s position,” Jastrab told VeloNews.
The 20-year-old only did five races with Team DSM in 2021 as she concentrated on the track, part of the U.S. line-up that won Olympic team pursuit bronze in Tokyo.
“This whole spring season was a shock, getting back into road racing after a year and a half of track,” Jastrab reflects. “A little bit of figuring out how to ride in the pack again and getting into race fitness. But I came over, got a couple of extra races added to my calendar and it’s been great.”
After crashing out of her debut Paris-Roubaix before the first cobbled sector last October, she was also able to be a team player in this year’s edition, supporting Floorte Mackaij and Pfeiffer Georgi to sixth and ninth there on the way to finishing in the famous velodrome.
Jastrab is also a student at Milligan University, majoring in exercise science and business.
While her peloton peers took a brief pause for breath after Paris-Roubaix, Jastrab raced on the track at the Glasgow Nations Cup then headed straight to Tennessee, dealing with jet lag during exams on topics such as biomechanics, marketing and advertising. She had 30 credit hours this spring. As if that wasn’t enough, she then headed to collegiate nationals, scooping up the TTT, road race, criterium, and the overall.
Combining sport and education works for Jastrab.
“I think it’s all about time management, but it’s also like I need a distraction,” she says. “If I just have cycling, I feel like I’ll just be so overwhelmed, so stressed out on every little detail. Whereas I wake up, have breakfast, do some schoolwork and I go train. It can be great or bad, it doesn’t really matter, I have work to do, so I go back and switch on student mode.”
She has one more year until graduation.
“I’m really looking forward to that. But I don’t know what I’ll do. I have so much time right now: I wake up, go for a walk, I’m lost,” she laughs. “I like being busy and to always be learning. I’m trying to learn how to relax and watch stuff.”
Rise of a US cycling prodigy
Jastrab’s university focus also helps to give her a more gradual move into the sport’s highest echelons.
Jastrab burst onto the scene internationally by winning the 2019 junior world championship road race in Yorkshire, but she had already made her impact at home, beating senior pros to win stages at Redlands and Valley of the Sun that season.
Jastrab spent most of her childhood doing pretty much everything but cycling with her brother Ryan, who is eighteen months older.
“Our goal was to try every sport by the time we were 21. We grew up doing soccer, baseball, skiing, diving, swimming, dirt biking, running,” she said.
Her father was a former college racer who would go on group rides. When the family moved south to Apple Valley in High Desert, the kids got started on the BMX track down the road. They moved onto the asphalt, sharing their mom’s old Schwinn with downtube shifters, which was a few sizes too big. “We would trade-off with the bike, one of us riding with my dad around the block, which was eight miles. I thought it was going to be the death of me,” she says.
Jastrab’s first US national championships victory in Madison, WI in 2014 made her more aware of her potential.
“I ended up winning the 11-12-girl time-trial by 40-something seconds. And I was told ‘if you win the 17-18s, you get a free trip to Europe to race Worlds.’ I was like: wait a minute, this bike racing thing can take me places? From there, my eyes opened to what I could do.”
She has flown through the ranks, winning over 20 national titles to become one of the USA’s hottest prospects on the road and track.
As she focuses on the road in 2022, Jastrab is set to make her debut at the Giro d’Italia Donne (June 30-July 10), her first grand tour.
A season of discovering the European scene has put her in a better position to judge the races she’d like to win in the future too: “I really like the stage racing. I love when it’s hard racing and everyone’s on the limit – that mental side, getting into the group that goes away in the last 30km which sticks. And I really like the spring classics; hopefully in the future, I can develop into a rider for those races.”
It’s just the beginning for Jastrab, who is under no illusions about the transition from junior ranks to the highest level.
“It’s learning from teammates, really understanding that it’s not going to be the same: you’re not going to be able to move as easily, you’re not the strongest rider, you have to be really smart with what you do. And every race is not going to go well for you, but it’s about just keeping your focus on the end goal. It will take time.”