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Megan Jastrab wants a women’s U23 worlds category, but only if it’s a separate race

The former junior road race world champion is back on the road again with Team DSM this fall and loving it, despite some heavy crashes recently.

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SOUTHEND-ON-SEA, UK (VN) — Megan Jastrab wants a U23 category at the world championships but only if it’s done properly.

Like many young female riders, she hasn’t had the opportunity to race at U23 level at the worlds as it is still not an option for the women’s peloton. It means she must compete with some much more experienced riders to get a spot on the elite squad.

UCI president David Lappartient has put forward the idea of introducing a U23 title for the worlds in 2022, but the riders would still compete in the elite race and the winner would be the first of them across the line — wherever they might be in the bunch.

Also read: Megan Jastrab and Kendall Ryan receive grants from the Catlin Fund

It’s not an idea that Jastrab likes.

“I wish there was a separate U23 category because I don’t think the dynamic would work between the elite and the U23 riders just because of the dynamics of who qualifies, how big the field is, and the level also,” Jastrab told VeloNews at the Women’s Tour this week. “We want the U23 category to be a stepping-stone to elites. If you put the U23 level in the elites then you’re missing the point of having a U23 category as a stepping-stone.

“There should more equality in the women’s elite field and the men’s. If you add U23s then are you taking away start spots for the women? How does the qualification work? If you have full rosters for one country then it just doesn’t make sense. The winner should be the first to cross the line, it shouldn’t be in the pack finish, that’s bike racing and competition. It should be its own race if you’re going to have a category.”

Jastrab’s season has been dominated by riding in national colors on the track. She was named as one of the five members of Team USA’s pursuit squad going for gold in Tokyo.

The 19-year-old was the team’s reserve but got called up after the qualifying round as the nation looked to close the gap to rivals Germany and Great Britain. In the end, Team USA maintained their third-place position to take home a bronze medal.

“Just to get the call-up and be told that I made it was probably the highlight. Everybody says it was the experience of the Olympics but the whole two months before was probably the highlight to know that I made it was a life-long goal,” Jastrab told VeloNews.

Also read: UCI plans to introduce U23 women’s category within 2022 road worlds

“It was an incredible experience. I don’t think I can compare it to anything. It has been the highlight of my career so far. It was life-changing for me. The whole build-up and experience. I know there were a lot of restrictions due to COVID, and we were kind of separated from the Olympic experience as we were in a satellite village, but the whole experience was so professional. It just showed me what top athletes are in the sport and I am now really looking forward to Paris and LA and, hopefully, I’ll be able to go again.”

Jastrab’s track focus this season, and last, meant there was no opportunity for her to earn entry into Team USA’s selection for the road world championships in Flanders.

“I wish I could have qualified for the elites but there were also automatic qualifications, so I didn’t race at all on the road so there were no points to qualify. We did have an amazing team and I’m very happy for Coryn and Ruth’s performances,” she said.

Back on the road

Away from national competition, Jastrab has only recently had the chance to race in Team DSM colors for the first time.

The 19-year-old got back on the road to race at the Simac Ladies Tour in August and has had a busy racing schedule that took her to the Women’s Tour this week.

Aside from an appearance at this year’s U.S. nationals road race in June, Jastrab hadn’t contested a UCI road race since she won her junior world title in 2019 as she prepared for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. After so long away, she was keen to get riding on the asphalt again.

Also read: Gallery: Women’s Madison makes history at Tokyo Games

“I love road racing. Everyone calls me a trackie but I’m a roadie at heart so it’s very nice to get back out and race on the road,” Jastrab told VeloNews.

“I know some people take a break after the Olympics but as I didn’t do any road racing except road nationals in the US it has been really nice to get back out here and experience my first races with the team as it is my first year with DSM.”

Jastrab’s road return hasn’t gone how she might have wanted it after a big crash at Paris-Roubaix last weekend and another, just two days later, on the opening stage of the Women’s Tour. While she was determined to push on and complete the race, the DSM medical staff decided it was better to give her time to rest.

She is still scheduled to ride at Ronde van Drenthe on October 24 but a decision on that will be made closer to the time.

“I haven’t had the best luck during this trip, I crashed out in Roubaix and crashed here. Right now, it’s about survival, and then hopefully we can get some nice team results,” she said. “We’ve got a good team here. I’ll come back for Drenthe and then that’s it.

“I just want to take the experiences, learning, and maturing as this is my first elite season on the road at WorldTour level. I’m just taking the experiences and just getting better as a bike rider.”

Despite Jastrab’s abandon before the stage, Team DSM’s fortunes were on the up with Lorena Wiebes winning the sprint into Southend-on-Sea.