“I did an echelon!” These were the words that came out of Megan Jastrab’s smiling mouth as she celebrated the emphatic solo victory of her teammate, Pfeiffer Georgi, at Brugge-De Panne a few weeks ago. Jastrab had been a crucial part of Georgi's win after the two riders performed faultlessly in the breakaway group during the windy day in Belgium, beating the likes of Lorena Wiebes and Elisa Balsamo through smart and exemplary tactics.
I’m speaking to Jastrab a few weeks later, the day before the 2023 edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes and ask her where her – now famous – echelon comment came from.
“I do know how to ride my bike,” she says with a giggle. “I have done echelons like in training, of course, but never in a race. I had never raced a windy race before as a junior so I was never involved in an echelon, then last year I did the Ronde van Drenthe which was my first ever one, and let's just say I was a shell of a human after that race. I missed every echelon and I got shelled from the front group. I was just chasing the entire day.”
“I was like oh my gosh, this is the worst experience of my life! So then in De Panne this year I was so stressed because I didn’t know if I would be any better this year. But then I was in the front echelons and I forced echelons. It was funny because everyone was telling me I was going to be fine then I was like wow, I actually did it.”
For a rider with such impressive results, Jastrab seems incredibly modest about her performances so far this season. When I bring up her recent sprint to second place in the 2023 edition of Gent-Wevelgem a few days after De Panne, the 21-year-old explains that she didn’t expect to be getting these sorts of results so early in her career.
Megan Jastrab and Pfeiffer Georgi celebrate after Gent-Wevelgem 2023 (Image: Getty)
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. Everyone was saying you have to trust that you’re going to make it over the Kemmelberg but last year I was out of time limit, so I tried to keep believing,” she says. “I was pretty dead at the end but they were like just go for it and see what you can do. I was very excited, I felt like I won the race at the finish. I didn’t put my hands up or anything but it felt like a win to me.”
Her performances in both Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem have given Jastrab confidence heading into the brutal cobbles of Roubaix this weekend. While she’s only a young rider, the American has competed in both editions of Paris-Roubaix Femmes that have been held for the women’s peloton, so she knows what it takes to make it to the velodrome.
“My first year, I didn't make it to the cobbles. I was involved in a big crash before the first sector so I DNF’d. Last year went a lot better with positioning and I learnt a lot. I think tomorrow, because I've had a couple of good races so far this season, I’m feeling some excitement and I’m a bit ambitious. I need to keep an open mindset and just alway try to come back after every section.”
Although she’s trying to hold on to the positive attitude that has been crucial to Jastrab’s results so far this season, the Team DSM rider still isn’t convinced by the cobbles. Her thoughts about the pavé of Northern France are similar to those she had about echelons last year.
“I want to be a fan of cobbles, but I'm not,” she says. “I feel like I should like them because of my riding style and physique, but I just don’t, so it's more just getting through it. But it's an iconic race so I think with the crowds and everything it is going to be exciting.”
Even if Jastrab doesn’t find herself in the winning position on Saturday, she argues that Team DSM has a range of options when it comes to riders who could go for victory. The likes of Pfeiffer Georgi, Franziska Koch and Charlotte Kool are all cards that the Dutch team could play during the Hell of the North.
Megan Jastrab and Pfeiffer Georgi during Brugge-De Panne 2023 (Image: Getty)
“We have a little bit of co-leadership for tomorrow. We're all quite good on this kind of course. We're going to have one person doing positioning through the circuits and on the entry to the first cobbled section. From there we all need to be positioned well,” Jastrab explains. “Anything can happen, if one rider flats out and that's your one leader then it's over and you went all in for one person. We’re just going to see how the race plays out from the beginning.”
This multi-layered approach to races is something that we’ve seen regularly in Team DSM’s tactics this year, and it could be that this is most important in a race like Roubaix, where so many variables can go wrong. Jastrab says that the opportunity to race so openly has come easier to the team after the departure of their star sprinter, Lorena Wiebes, last season.
“Last year, for a lot of the courses, you just had to keep the races together and make it a sprint so we could win. But this year, we can be a lot more open and more aggressive. We have a lot of strengths that allow us to get in the breaks or force a breakaway and then attack. It's allowed us to race with a completely different mindset this year.”
If Jastrab can take the same approach to cobbles as she did echelons on Saturday, the American rider has every chance of a strong result. While she says that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get past the fact the cobbles “feel horrible” and might be an outside bet for victory, Jastrab is certainly a rider to watch at Paris-Roubaix Femmes.