Megan Jastrab put on a tactical masterclass during her junior women’s world championship road race victory in Yorkshire. The 17-year-old Californian anticipated the crucial attack that occurred with 3km to go and then followed the move. Jastrab then unleashed her sprint at the exact perfect moment to cross the finish line just ahead of her chasers.
Jastrab won despite being one of the heavy favorites. We recently caught up with Jastrab on The VeloNews Podcast to discuss the victory, as well as her experience growing up in an athletic family. Below, in an excerpt from that interview, Jastrab breaks down the strategic riding that helped her win the rainbow stripes.
VN: You said before the race that the final left-hand turn was the most important part of the course. How did you and the team execute your plan for that turn?
Megan Jastrab: We did a lot of course recon so we knew where we needed to be. Normally, you just think about the finishing sprint, but with this course being so boring in the beginning, and you know it was going to be a large field going into that left-hand turn, you knew it was the deciding moment of the race. It was about setting myself up for that turn, instead of for the finishing sprint. You have to be top five in that turn, no matter what. If you want to win, go through that corner in the top-5. That’s it, it wasn’t an option to not do it. I had Katie Clouse with me up at the front. Attacks started happening on the outside, and we jumped out and sprinted for the turn. It was like, ‘just go for it, waste some energy, and get to the front.’ There was a crash behind us, and it was raining, so the turn was slippery.
VN: The crux of the race happened after the turn when Aigul Gareeva attacked and you went with her. Take me through your decision to mark her.
MJ: That was one of the outcomes I was thinking about. I had five possible outcomes for the race. I knew there would be an attack from the bottom of the hill because the hill is long enough that you can drag it out and split the field. I thought maybe the attacks would start at the bottom of the hill. Gareeva came around the turn maybe first or second, and looked back and saw she had a gap and she took advantage of it, and I was ready for it. That was one of the outcomes I predicted, so I was ready to go. I’ve had a problem in the past where I hesitate during races. I reminded myself: ‘Whatever you do, don’t hesitate in this race. This is what you thought could happen, just ride it out.’ What was surprising to me was when I looked back and saw we had a gap. It was strange, because I thought people would start chasing right then and there. But it seemed like nobody was ready. They weren’t chasing too hard, and Gareeva just kept pulling and pulling and pulling. I was like, ‘I don’t have to do any work, this is strange.’ I kept looking back, thinking if it comes back together, I’m fine with it being a reduced bunch sprint. I don’t need to waste energy with this. If it came back together I knew it would be 15 riders because the hill would wear on people. And it worked out.
VN: Take me through your decision to not work with Gareeva and to simply let her pull. I think it would be difficult to resist the urge to go hard in that situation.
MJ: It wasn’t too hard for me to do that because I’m not someone that likes to ride breakaways. I’m fine with them, but it’s the world championships, and I know I can sprint. It’s like, ‘well, let’s not try something new at the world championships.’ I would have worked more if there were two other riders. But it was just her and me, and she seemed really motivated to pull. She would flick her elbow and she wouldn’t pull off or slow down, she kept going. I was like, ‘you can keep going if you want, I’m fine with that.’ So, I knew she was so strong. Her TT performance was so insane, when she missed a turn and still won. I thought that if I waste energy and she attacks me with 500 meters to go, how can I respond? It was about being comfortable and relaxed. We have a gap, so if I go back to the field, I’ll be fresher than the girls chasing behind. It was about being patient and not getting excited, and blowing your matches in the final turn.
VN: Have you watched the replay? Your sprint was so close that you won and Gareeva didn’t even make the medals.
MJ: Yeah, I knew where I was sprinting, but now that I look back on it, yeah, I was a little close. But I finished with three bike lengths, and I stopped sprinting earlier to post up – yeah, I know it’s bad – I still had three bike lengths, so it wasn’t too bad. Now, looking back on it, I could have started earlier. Gareeva was so strong, I was anticipating her sprint to be stronger. But now looking back on it, she wasted so much energy to get that gap, that I could have jumped earlier and been safe. But in that moment in time, I didn’t mess up. If there was someone stronger in the field, maybe I’d be caught, but it was OK. I knew that everyone was tired form that finish, because coming around the roundabout it was such a hard climb. It was all out for two minutes, then you descend down into the technical corners, and then 500 meters to the turn. Everyone was gassed, and I had a little bit more. I started my sprint at 200 or 150 meters to go, but I was anticipating Gareeva to have a stronger sprint. But realizing how much work she did, she was obviously tired.
VN: You said the emotion you felt at the finish was relief. Was that because of the pressure you had going in as a favorite?
MJ: Yeah I think I know a lot of people said that I was the favorite, and that was in the back of my head. Mostly, the relief was that I put in so much work with my coach and my team, and it’s the pressure you put on yourself to perform on the biggest stage. I knew from a long time ago I wanted to win the road race world championships, it was a big goal of mine. All of the work I did, all of the intervals, going to class early in the morning, coming home to do more training, and sacrificing going out with friends and staying out late, all that paid off. I think that was the coolest thing ever. It was that moment of, ‘Aha! It was all worth it.’