Over the years we’ve interviewed dozens of young men who dream of signing a contract and joining the professional peloton.
Of those dozens only a very few realise their dream so it’s always good for the soul to see a young man, especially a Scotsman, ‘make it’ and put pen to paper.
East Kilbride’s 23 years-old Calum Johnston has featured on our pages several times as a ‘Zappi Man’ including when he was ‘locked down’ on Etna – and taking a fine 12th overall in the ‘Baby’ Giro in 2020.
But this year saw him leave Sen. Zappi and la Bella Italia, move to Pamplona in the Basque Country and begin a new adventure with the amateur ‘feeder’ team for UCI ProTeam Caja Rural-Seguros RGA.
Despite an interrupted season thanks to Covid and visa tribulations the results came and so did a contract, for season 2022 he joins the full ProTeam and will joust in the same arena as the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas.
What can we say but, ‘CHAPEAU!’
We caught up with the man of the moment, recently.
Congratulations sir, a dream come true, when were you notified?
“Thank you, definitely, it’s what I’ve been working towards virtually my whole life.
“After a race the General Manager of the team approached me and said he’d like me to join the ProTeam for seasons 2022/3 – it was surreal, I couldn’t really believe it!
“I had six wins: Trofeo San Jose, Trofeo Robert Innova, Leintz Baularari, Euskal Bailak and a stage and GC in the Vuelta a Cantabria, plus another five podium placings.”
Caja Rural have been around a long time, they’re a cornerstone of the Spanish pro scene.
“It’s a team with a lot of history; it was founded in 2000 and I’ll be racing alongside guys like Mikel Nieve who has won stages in the Vuelta and Giro, and he was king of the mountains in 2016.
“It’s also the team where Hugh Carthy learned his trade before he moved up to the World Tour so I’m looking forward to the experience.”
I was looking at the team roster, it’s pretty cosmopolitan.
“Yes, we have Spanish obviously, and Colombian, Czech, Ecuadorian, Portuguese, Venezuelan riders – I’m the only English speaker.
“My Spanish is coming along though, it’s much easier to learn than Italian.
“With Zappi you were with British guys and speaking English most of the time but since I came to Caja Rural I’ve been exposed to Spanish, all day, every day and I can now hold a decent conversation.
“The trouble is that they speak so fast it’s difficult to understand them sometimes.”
Where will ‘home’ be?
“Pamplona, that’s where the team house for foreign riders is, I’ve got to know the place quite well, and I love it.
“The choice of roads for training is great, you can go out on the plains where it’s always windy and practice your crosswind riding or you can go up into the Pyrenees and work on your climbing.
“There are such a lot of roads to explore, which is nice, it gives variety to your training.”
You recently had the first team get together?
“Yes, we discussed the calendar, the new equipment, nutrition – but it wasn’t all just business, we went on a big hike and drove go-karts too, it was a fun experience.
“I’m back in Scotland until the 8th or 9th of January then I have a training camp in Almeria; that’s when my race programme will be confirmed.”
Season 2021 definitely saw you ‘turn a corner.’ Why do you think that was?
“Yes, I was ‘on a roll’ of good form with my wins and placings which were good results given I achieved them in what was only a half season – from July onwards, with my Covid and travel woes early in the year.
“I was patient though and knew I’d worked hard all through last winter – I put a lot of pressure on myself, I knew that 2021 was really my last chance to step up so I gave it 110% commitment this year.”
When do you start training for 2022 and what’s your coaching situation?
“My head is already down! I’ve been on the bike for three weeks, just long, steady distance rides, no intensity… the team coaching staff are working with me now.”
Has the team mentioned their expectations to you?
“It’s my first season as a pro so they aren’t putting pressure on me – and I’m not putting pressure on myself either.
“I want to do well but I’ll be competing at a whole new level so my main aims will be to gain experience and learn from the other guys in the team.
“There are some very experienced riders on the team; Mikel Nieve has been a professional since 2008 and Mikel Prades is another very experienced guy, he was with the team before and then was with Movistar, and he’s won the Tours of Aragon, Norway and Turkey in his time.”
Do you still keep in touch with the Dave Rayner Fund folks?
“Yes, I owe them a lot. Their funding was a huge help during my early development and what I’ve achieved wouldn’t have been possible without them.
“I would have loved to attend the dinner but that’s been lost to the pandemic – which is such a shame.”
Sen. Zappi must be pleased with your promotion?
“Yes he is, we still keep in touch and next year is an exciting one for him with the new academy and his Continental team.
“Hopefully we’ll meet each other at the races if his team is riding a race we’re entered in”
Season 2022 is about?
“I want to help the team and learn the trade.
“I have goals in mind but really I just want to have no hiccups and get on with learning and racing.”
VeloVeritas wishes Calum well for season 2022 and we’ll be keeping our eyes on Caja Rural’s results.