AS a kid, becoming a footballer was Calum Johnston’s dream. The thought of becoming a cyclist had never crossed his mind.
However, a decade on, the 22-year-old is within touching distance of fulfilling the goal of millions of cyclists around the world, and becoming a professional road racer.
“I’m so, so close now to getting a pro contract – I’m literally only one step away from being a pro,” the East Kilbride native says. “It’s huge to get a pro contract but I really believe I’ll get one. You have to think like that and have that belief because if you don’t, it’ll never happen for you.”
Johnston describes his younger self as “football daft” but when his dad, a competitive cyclist, bought 10-year-old Johnston a bike, it did not take long for him to become hooked.
He progressed through the junior ranks before securing his big break aged 18 with a move to Italy, signing with Holdsworth Zappi Racing.
Three-and-a-half years in Italy allowed Johnston to learn his trade and acclimatise to the cut and thrust of road racing on the continent, and despite his youth, Johnston never appeared out of his depth.
It was the 2019 season though that he began to really show what he was capable of, before confirming his promise last season.
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, road cycling managed to put together a relatively full calendar, which was particularly fortunate for Johnston, who came out of the summer’s lockdown all guns blazing.
A top-10 finish in the youth classification at the Tour of Bulgaria was a sign of what was to come at the prestigious Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, also known as the Baby Giro, which is one of the world’s most competitive under-23 stage races.
His target all year had been to peak at the Baby Giro, but even with such an intense focus on the race, his 12th-place finish in the general classification was a surprise even to him.
“My confidence had been growing and so I went into 2020 knowing what I was capable of and I really believed that yes, I can do this,” he says. “But my result in the Giro did shock me a little. It’s the hardest under-23 cycling race there is, with riders from around the world.
“The week before it, I woke up with a sore throat and it was panic stations because that was the race the whole year had been geared towards.
“I got a Covid test and thankfully it was negative but even when I started the race, I still didn’t feel great. As the race went on though, I found my feet and started doing well. But doing quite as well as I did was a bit of a surprise to me.”
Johnston’s impressive form has earned him a move to Spain, where this year he has signed with Caja Rural, where he will be part of their development squad.
The Scot has had to delay meeting up with his new team due to the Covid restrictions, and a planned training camp in Alicante was postponed until the start of February.
Johnston is desperate to get started with his new team, particularly as he knows this season could be the biggest of his career.
This will be his first season as a senior rider and with Caja Rural also having a pro team, he knows some good performances could see him receive the offer he has dreamt about.
“One of the reasons I moved to this team is there’s an easy pathway into the pro team. If I prove myself on the development team, they’ll see that I’m committed and I’m hoping they’ll offer me a pro contract this year,” he says.
“At the moment, I’m living the life as a full-time pro but I’m not being paid so the dream is to be a professional cyclist and earn a good wage. That would be everything.
“The winter has been good, training has gone well and so now I can’t wait to get racing, which should be towards the end of February, and it’ll all be about results, results, results.”
It could be an important few years for Johnston. He may have much of his focus on joining the pro ranks, with his ultimate goal to race the Grand Tours, but he also has one eye on next year’s Commonwealth Games. Scotland have not always selected specialist road racers but he hopes to elbow his way into the team for Birmingham 2022.
“The Commonwealth Games aren’t too far away now and being selected for Scotland next summer is one of my main goals,” he says. “It would be great to have a good road team going to Birmingham and I’d like to think I can get a spot on that team.
“The best scenario for me over the next year-and-a-half would be to get my professional contract in Spain and then head to the Commonwealth Games for Scotland as a pro.”