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Introducing: Megan Jastrab

HARROGATE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: <<enter caption here>> on September 27, 2019 in Harrogate, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Junior World Champiion Megan Jastrab (Image credit: Getty Images)

American Megan Jastrab has officially graduated from the junior ranks and is the youngest member of the newly launched Team DSM. The 18-year-old road and track specialist is on the fast track to the Olympic Games, where she aims to compete in both the Team Pursuit and Madison in 2021. 

Jastrab is new to the elite road racing ranks but she needs little introduction. She is the reigning junior world champion, a victory secured at the 2019 Road World Championships in Yorkshire, and she won the Omnium in the 2019 Junior World Track Championships. 

She signed a two-year contract to race with Team DSM, formerly Team Sunweb, where she hopes to make a name for herself in the Spring Classics on on the European circuit.

Jastrab fast-tracked through high school two years earlier than her peers. She just completed her final exams to cap off the second semester in her sophomore year at Milligan College in Tennessee before attending the virtual Team DSM launch on Friday.

Cyclingnews: It must feel like a whirlwind experience joining a WorldTour team and meeting all your new teammates (virtually), for the first time. How was the launch of the new Team DSM?

Megan Jastrab: They didn’t tell us about the new sponsor until last night and kept it a secret from all of us, so it was a big surprise. We had an hour meeting, changed everything, talked about the new programme and I’m really looking forward to it all. I haven’t had a chance to meet with my teammates in-person but we’ve said 'hi' over email. I’ll get to meet them all at the first team camp and I’m looking forward to it.

CN: How did you get into cycling?

MJ: My parents wanted my brother, Ryan, and I to grow up outdoors and not inside watching TV, or any of that, and we were always into different sports: skateboarding, scooters, bikes, skiing. Being a very outdoorsy family, bikes were always part of our life. 

I was homeschooled so, we would always ride to the park to do our classes or ride here and there. My dad did group rides on the weekend and that caught the interest of my brother and I. There was a BMX track close to us, so we did that, I loved it but I was terrible. My brother and I nagged my dad to ride our bikes out on the road, but my parents were very cautious about us being kids and riding out on the road. I ended up using my mom’s old bike, too big for me, but by the end of 2013, when I was 11 years old, my brother and I got our own bikes and started racing in 2014.

CN: Where did you grow up?

MJ: We grew up in Diamond Bar, San Dimas, California, but moved up to Apple Valley. Most of my family is down in Diamond Bar area.

CN: San Dimas hosted a big stage race, did you race in that event?

MJ: They haven’t had that race for two years now due to financial backing. Funny story, though, is that my dad was affiliated with SC Velo Club, which was the first team I raced for when I was a kid. My dad gave me an old green 'points' jersey from that San Dimas race to wear, and I had no clue what that meant at the time. I ended up winning that green jersey in the pro women’s field in the 2017 San Dimas Stage Race. 

CN: School is really important to you. How do you manage both college studies and professional cycling?

MJ: I just finished another semester of school at Milligan College and I’m done my final exams. It was a weight lifted from my shoulders. The biggest thing is recovery, you can’t pull an all-nighter to study and also be an athlete because you sacrifice performance, and it causes a domino effect. It’s all about planning and understanding the time you need to study and for training, and communicating with your coach.

CN: You have described yourself as a very organised person, tell me about that side of your personality and how that has helped you succeed.

MJ: I’ve always had a plan. I’ve always been driven in school; a goody two shoes and an over-achiever. I was homeschooled, and so when you do poorly on a test, your teacher, who is mom or dad, knows if you studied or not, and you get no pity if you get a bad grade. I learned a lot about time management through being homeschooled. You can’t put things off. My parents always wanted me to have goals in life and taught me to work toward them, to have a purpose and do what you like, and so, doing well in school and cycling are my two top priorities.

CN: Tell us more about your experience with homeschooling.

MJ: I finished high school two years early because I started school early. My brother is a year and a half older than me, and so, my parents decided that they were going to homeschool him and I was like, 'if he’s learning his ABCs, I want to do that, too'. My mom let me learn along with my brother, and so I started school early and continued through. I loved school and it was no problem for me. I wanted to learn everything I could. I was homeschooled all my life, right through to college. 

I loved being homeschooled. We were filed with a private school where my mom did the curriculum, she was a teacher and everything. My mom is very smart and has a biochemistry and microbiology degree. It was really nice because there was no hiding from your work. If you didn’t do the work, mom knew. You had to do the work and study, and that held me accountable to get my own work done. It was nice because she would let us get ahead, do more school work, so that we could then take time off to go to a stage race or travel. It wasn’t easy at all but I loved it.

CN: What was a normal day like in homeschooling? 

MJ: Each day was different. We had so many chapters or reading to get done inside of a week, my mom would plan out the classes we would do on which days. If we were busy the day before, we could start school later, or if we had a doctor’s appointment we could work around when we would do the work. 

It was not so much about in-class time, it was more about doing the assignments, which is a big amount of time, but we didn’t have to wait for the whole class to get it or for the teacher to explain everything. If we got it right away, we moved on to the next thing, and if we didn’t get something, we would spend more time on it. I would try and get everything done earlier in the week, and plough through the first few days, so that I could take the rest of the week off. If you’re learning or memorizing stuff, like definitions, playing the game 'Mother May I' was fun for us as little kids. 

CN: Olympics are important for you. What are your goals for the Tokyo Olympic Games?

MJ: I’m on the long-list team for the Team Pursuit and Madison, for women’s track endurance, and it’s a big goal for next year, everything is based around the Olympics. Even with the delay and stuff, Team DSM, was very supportive of it, so right now I’m in Colorado and we have a track camp in Los Angeles in January, and back to Colorado Springs, and then it's full-gas for my track goals. Hopefully, I’ll race the three Nations Cup (track events), and the selection for the Olympics will happen at the end of May.

CN: If you don’t qualify for Tokyo will you redirect your attention on the Paris Olympic Games in 2024?

MJ: Yes, I will definitely be trying to stay in the sport until Paris. If I don’t get selected to Tokyo in May then I’ll turn my attention to road racing this season. Winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games would be a dream. I think everyone understands that the Olympics are above the World Championships. People know the Olympic Games and completely understand. That’s my objective. If I get a medal that’s great, but even if I just get to race, that would be a career highlight. In the future, if I can progress in the sport, a gold medal at the Olympic Games would be incredible.

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.