The bright lights and big-city sights that characterize Dubai are beckoning Callie Swan.
Fresh from signing her first pro cycling contract, the 21-year-old from Prince George will jump from one desert environment to another, half a world away, when she hits the streets of the United Arab Emirates capital to race in next week's Dubai Women's Tour.
Swan just inked a deal with Macogep Tornatech Girodins de Bordeaux, an all-women cycling team from Quebec whose director, Gerald Penarroya, helped develop Olympians Clara Hughes and Tara Whitten.
Swan is based in Victoria, where she studies sports management at Camosun College, but for the past three months has been living and training in Tucson, Ariz. The warm and dry Arizona climate has been a welcome respite for Swan, much more conducive to extended training rides than the soggy winter conditions she's grown accustomed to in Victoria since moving there from Prince George 3 1/2 years ago.
"The riding is pretty good in Victoria but they've gotten snow and so much wind and rain and basically it's been summer here in Arizona," said Swan. "I'm looking forward to another good season after probably my best consistent winter training I've had just due to the weather.
"(Signing with the pro team) is super-exciting, it's definitely what I've wanted and have been working towards for the past few years. Just the races I get to go to now, it's going to be awesome. I'll be racing with the top women in the sport doing races in Dubai, Spain, France, so it's going to be an awesome experience."
The first race in Dubai is on Monday on a 99-kilometre course. Three of the courses are flat, but there are significant climbs and descents in the 90 km Wapi Hatta Hill Park course on Wednesday that passes by the city's dam. The total distance over four days is 392 km.
"Honestly, it's my first race in awhile so my expectations are more just going there to experience the European peleton, meeting everyone on the team and just figuring out team tactics and how racing at this level works," said Swan. "I'm more just excited for the opportunity than having any expectations on myself.
"My big goal is to be selected for world championships for the team. That's a ways out but that's what I'm working towards and to represent Canada this year would be awesome. If you do win nationals overall in the road race you get an automatic selection for world championships."
Swan will be in Montreal for the team introduction March 23-26, then will prepare for the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas, April 2-5, and the Tour de Gila in New Mexico, April 29-May 2, before she heads to Spain for UCI races in May. Other big events on the calendar are the national championships in Quebec City in late-June and BC Super Week, a series of 10 races in the Lower Mainland in July.
She knows races in Europe are much bigger than in North America and she will be racing with 120 riders clamouring for positions on narrow roads in the elite women's class.
"It's taken some time to figure out how to race in such a huge peleton," she said. "The roads are only so big and everyone wants to be in the top-20 wheels and that's something to get used to."
Selection for the world championships in Switzerland at the end of September is based on the Union Cycliste Internationale point standings riders accumulate at sanctioned races. Swan plans to stay in Tucson until May and will be the tour guide when her team arrives there for a training camp in April. Macogep Tornatech Girodins de Bordeaux is sponsored by Specialized and the company has given her a new bike to ride.
Swan applied for a spot on the team in August and the offer came through in late-December. A persistent knee injury curtailed her results last year but her medal result at the 2018 nationals and several top-10 finishes at BC Super Week caught the interest of the team.
Swan started her elite racing career as a short track speed skater developed her racing engine as a speed skater with the Prince George Blizzard Club in Prince George. She raced on blades for 14 years from age 4-16. She was a short track competitor in the 2015 Canada Winter Games in her hometown, finishing as high as 11th in the 1,500m event.
"Speed skating introduced me to the bike because in the summertime when there was no ice we would go ride our road bikes," said Swan. "I'd already been riding a road bike for three or four years before I started racing one and that definitely made the transition easier."