Faces of the Future: Megan Jastrab, the 15-year-old who’s taking on the pros
In our Faces of the Future series, we’re taking a look at the personalities, ambitions and palmares of some of the young and talented cyclists you might not know much about, but you are bound to be hearing lots about in the future.
In this edition of our Faces of the Future series, we’d like to introduce you to Megan Jastrab. An emerging talent in the North American scene, the 15-year-old made her pro level debut this year with a bang, surprising her competition when she beat them to the line. Rapidly growing her palmares, at the time of this interview, Jastrab already has 11 national gold medals, 23 national podiums, and several Pro wins to her name.
“I like to set my goals high so that I always have something to work towards.”
– Megan Jastrab, junior cyclist
One might say that Megan Jastrab grew up with an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ spirit as she looked up to, and contested, her older brother in anything he did. When he started learning the ABC’s, she joined in, starting school two years earlier than most. And when it came to outdoor activities, it was no different. The siblings were involved in a myriad of sports until both of them landed on cycling.
Her bike racing career started at age 8, when she jumped into BMX racing. By then she’d already been riding motorcycles for six years (!) so a feel for the bike, speed and handling came naturally. In 2014, she added road and mountain bike racing into the mix, and now, just a couple years later, she’s already taking on the some of the best racers in the country…and she’s still only 15 years old.
The youngster turned heads at the prestigious Redlands Bicycle Classic early in the season when, in Stage 4, she took the field sprint to place second behind British national time trial champion and solo stage winner, Claire Rose (Visit Dallas – DNA Pro Cycling). For some, it takes many years of racing at the pro level to develop the skills, strength and courage to achieve such a finish, Jabstrab however, did it in her very first pro crit. And on junior gearing no less.
Sprinting into the Spotlight
While she may have surprised her competition and even herself with the success of her pro level debut, her myriad of junior and amateur victories show a steady progression. She is already a 10-time junior national champion on the road, and her performance at the crits of the early season Valley of the Sun and San Dimas stage races – second and first, respectively – foreshadowed her success at Redlands.
In addition to being the longest continually running stage race in the US, Redlands is also a Pro Road Tour level race – the perfect launching pad for an up-and-coming sprinter.
Fully aware of the potential, Jastrab confessed that she spent a lot of time preparing for the event, studying the course via YouTube videos, pre-riding the course and planning out race scenarios with her dad.
But she had to make it to the criterium first, battling high temperatures, stiff competition and junior gearing to make the time cut. With most of her junior races being limited to 48-64 kilometres (30-40 miles), the 106-kilometre (66-mile) road race with 1,828 metres (6,000 feet) of climbing was daunting. But she fared well, crossing the line well within in the time cut in a solid 28th place. Elated with the result, Jastrab knew that the crit was her chance to shine.
“I was so focused that day,” Jastrab told Ella CyclingTips.
“My parents were like, ‘Oh my god, we haven’t seen you like this in a while’. Everything worked out really well in the race, I was in the right position every time. Some of the bigger teams were chasing down a breakaway up the road, so they burnt out their lead out riders, so it was more evenly matched because they didn’t have a full lead-out train and I didn’t have a lead-out train… It just worked out.”
Jastrab, like other juniors, is limited to a max gear of 52×14. With that in mind, she relies less on pure strength and more on race smarts.
“It really comes down to tactics and saving as much energy as you can,” she said. “It is hard when you get up to the max sprinting speeds, you can’t really accelerate.”
But the gear restrictions don’t seem to hold her back. At Redlands and various races since then, Jastrab showed that she’s got the smarts to win, and is on the fast track to a promising cycling career.
A Family Affair
A former collegiate racer, it was Jastrab’s father who introduced his kids to the sport of cycling. Little did he know, however, that before long the whole household would revolve around cycling.
“My parents always say, ‘we have our jobs, then we are the taxi drivers also’,” Jastrab said laughing. “My dad is the coach and the mechanic, my mom is the nutritionist, my brother is my training partner. Everybody has a goal and it all works out well for all of us. We all get along…”
Until the sibling rivalry kicks in, that is.
“[My brother and I] train together but there definitely is a brother-sister rivalry,” said Jastrab.
“He is a-year-and-a-half older than me so he is much stronger, but sometimes it’s fun if I outsmart him on a training ride and beat him in a sprint. But he is definitely stronger than me so it is nice to have that person you are riding with who always pushes you to be better.”
Given her success this year, Jastrab allows herself to dream big. Winning a Junior World Championship title, an elite World Championships, the Olympics, and some Women’s WorldTour aces are all on her radar, even though she’s still got a while before she’s even old enough to compete.
In the meantime, she’s focused on domestic racing and her education.
“I am looking at colleges, and I am thinking I want a scholarship for cycling but I got to see if they have what I want to go into for a career,” said Jastrab.
“I really like physics and chemistry, but I’m thinking pre-med or astrophysics or something along those lines.”
When noted that those are some lofty goals, Jastrab responded, “I like to set my goals high so that I always have something to work towards.”
Jastrab acknowledged that balancing education and cycling can be a bit of a challenge, but being homeschooled definitely helps.
“I just love pushing myself to the limits in everything I do,” she said.
Still too young
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Jastrab still has some maturing to do, both in her development as a cyclist as in the literal sense.
In a way, she is stuck in some strange middle ground. Being 15, she is limited in the level of races she can participate in. Riders under the age of 17 cannot compete in UCI races, so premier events like Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race are out of the picture for now. Likewise, she will have to wait another year to be able to qualify for Junior World Championships.
Goal-oriented as she is, Jastrab knows exactly how she’ll prepare while waiting to become of age.
“At [the World Championships] there are no crits, it’s a road race and a time trial so I need to learn to climb and time trial better. I have the tactics and other specialities I need to become a good road rider, so I am looking to learn how to ride at longer distance with more climbing and longer efforts, instead of being just a short crit sprinter,” she commented.
But first, Jastrab said her parents will “take away the bikes” for a month or so, forcing Megan and her brother to have an off-season and enjoy some of the sports and activities they’ve neglected. Although, Jastrab admitted that if she were given the chance, she’d ride bikes year-round, because, despite her maturity, she’s also just a kid who really loves riding her bike.