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Callum Johnston – Looking forward to a second season in Italy with Zappi


If you’re a VeloVeritas regular then you’ll have seen our interview with Flavio Zappi, the man who transforms promising U23 riders into World Tour performers.

Will Scot, Callum Johnston be pulling on a QuickStep jersey in a year or three?

Read on…

Callum Johnston
Photo©Callum Johnston

How old are you, where are you from and how do the Scottish palmares look, Callum?

“I’m 18 years-old from East Kilbride.

“To be honest, I don’t have much to report in the way of Scottish results, I have some top five’s and 10’s but the hillier courses in Italy suit me much better – I’m very grateful to Flavio for giving me this opportunity.”

How/why Zappi?

“I discovered Zappi two years ago but I was still junior and his team was U23 but we kept in touch.

“I’ve always loved Italy, my mum and dad had their honeymoon there and I’ve been there on holidays.

“In January he was looking for ‘trialists’ and I went down to Calpe in Spain to the team house there. It was great to sample the routine, the attention to diet, the training…

“I rode the Volta a la Marina and finished 14th out of 160 starters.

“That result lead to an invite back and in April I rode two UCI races in Italy; the GP della Liberazione in Rome which was 23 or 24 laps of a circuit – a huge crit, really. I didn’t finish but lasted 80 of the 140 K.

“The second race had the Colpack and Zalf guys there (Italy’s top U23 teams; at last count Zalf were on 28 wins for the season so far, ed.). It was over 146 K and by the finish there were only 40 or 50 of us left from a big field so I was happy to finish that one.

“Then I was out for the Trofeo Matteotti – Sacha Modolo won that one a few years ago – and again for the Bassano-Monte Grappa. That’s a crazy race. 80 kilometres of flat then a 26 K climb in 40 degree heat.

“So this is my fourth time this year with Zappi and I’ve loved every minute of it – riding the bike full time, the strict diet, the training.”

Callum Johnston
Photo©Callum Johnston

How are your folks with your ambitions?

“Very supportive, my dad has been cycling for 30 years, he’s taught me so much, driven me to races and given me training plans.

“My mother makes sure I eat sensibly and both of them – and not forgetting my sister – have made sacrifices so as I can pursue my cycling ambitions.”

Is it true ‘there’s no such thing as a flat bike race in Italy?’

“Definitely not!

“The Wanlockhead Road race is probably the lumpiest road race in Scotland but it would be nothing compared to most Italian races – even the sprinters have to able to get over the climbs.”

Callum Johnston
Photo©Callum Johnston

How have you been accepted by the Italian guys?

“Often we’re the only foreigners there so they all know who we are – the big teams like Zalf are indifferent to us but generally they’re nice lads.

“But once the racing starts it’s pretty chaotic; there are quite a few guys we’ve been racing against going to the World Tour teams in 2018 – Bahrain for example.”

What are the main differences between training and racing in Scotland and Italy?

“In Italy it’s much easier to stick to your training plan because the weather is so much better.

“In Scotland you might plan a four hour ride than waken up and there’s a gale blowing and it’s raining hard.

“And where we are, near Bergamo there’s such a variety of terrain to train on; you can go out on the plains but we’re also very close to the Dolomites.

“You eat so much more sensibly, at home you tend to snack when you don’t need to but here it’s much more regimented.

“I’ve also learned that I don’t perform best in a race by tapering into it – I’m best to be on the start line with slight fatigue in my legs.”

Callum Johnston
Photo©Callum Johnston

How’s the accommodation been?

“Just now we’re staying with Flavio’s old coach, near Bergamo – Tuscany is about a three hour drive and there’s not really many races further south than that.

“Hotels have been good for our UCI races, usually ‘resort’ hotels; we’ve stayed in a few basic places but they’ve been clean with a bed and a toilet – but that’s all you need, really.”

I believe Flavio is big into sardines for lunch?

“For breakfast we have muesli then we go training – and yes, for lunch we’ll have a big salad with sardines, tuna or mackerel.

“It takes a bit of adjustment but it’s obviously a very healthy diet.”

Tell us about the ‘beach walk’ please.

“That’s mega. If we’re close to the sea every morning we go for a walk on the beach as a team, it’s only a two minute walk from the team house in Cervia, which is close to Cesenatico on the Adriatic.

“It’s nice to get up and dress just in shorts, T-shirt and flip flops and go to walk on the beach – beautiful and psychologically very beneficial.”

Callum Johnston
Photo©Callum Johnston

How about ‘down’ time?

“If it’s a training day then we’ll have an afternoon nap after our ride – 45 minutes to an hour, to aid recovery.

“It can be a wee bit boring because there’s no wi-fi in the house so we’ll wander to the local café, which has wi-fi and catch up with family and friends on social media.”

And Flavio has you doing yoga?

“Yes, it’s good for waking up your muscles and to aid relaxation.”

What does the rest of the year hold?

“After my last race here I’m going to have a wee rest then target the Scottish Hill Climb Champs on October 22nd.

“I hope to use the form I’ve built here and of course, I’ll be continuing to get advice from Flavio.

“After that I’ll take a week or two off then get into the gym a couple of times each week to build core strength.”


“I’m not totally sure of the exact plan but in early January I’ll be heading out to Calpe and the training camp for a full season with Zappi Racing…”

VeloVeritas wishes Callum well and will keep an eye out for his results from La Bella Italia.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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