Anna Booth may be new to Sydney, but she’s already made quite the impression, winning the 2019 NSW Criterium Championship. We caught up with Anna about moving from hockey to cycling, winning the B-Grade Tour of Bright and escaping the Tasmanian permafrost.
I hear you’re a Western Bulldogs fan. How did that come about?
I was born in Tasmania, so it’s more AFL-oriented down that way. My whole family would go for different clubs, but my mum said when I was younger, I could say one the names of the players. His name was Danny Del-Re, and I used to say [in a childlike voice] “Danny Del Way!”
So my mum was like, “Okay, so you can go for the Dogs,” even though she was a Tigers fans. I supported them through my whole life and got to see them win a premiership a few years ago, so that was nice. It’s still on my bucket list to go to a grand final.
Tell us where you’ve lived, and why you’ve moved around so much.
I’m born and bred in Tassie. My dad is a rural general practitioner, so we lived in a country town and my mum was the practice manager of the clinic.
My brother moved to Brisbane, to the University of Queensland. After I finished school, and being Tasmanian and going and visiting him, it was very ideal to move to a warmer climate. I went and visited the University of Queensland, and it was amazing. The grounds—there were pools, and athletics tracks and volleyball courts, and all these fields—I played hockey at the time, so it was very attractive to me. I ended up moving to Brisbane after I finished school. I had a year off, I worked and got Youth Allowance, so I could save my way to live up north.
I moved there in 2009 and started with a university degree in Human Movement Studies. In the following year, I started my degree in Occupational Therapy. I ended up moving back home for a semester to do one of my pracs at a hospital down there, so I got to be back with my parents.
Just before I graduated, I met my partner, Ben, and we’re still together. I worked and then he moved to Sydney the following year. We ended up breaking up in 2015. He was still in Sydney.
So then I moved to Melbourne. All my friends were there, my sister lives there, so I moved to Melbourne for a few years. And then Ben and I got back together, actually. I moved to Sydney just last year, in July. So I’ve been in Tassie, Brisbane, Melbourne and now I’m in Sydney!
You played hockey? so How did you get into cycling?
My mum played hockey, so I got into hockey by my mum—thanks, Mum! When I moved to Brisbane, I was still playing hockey but it was just very different. There was a lot of politics around it and I wasn’t enjoying it; it wasn’t the same.
So I started to do a bit of running just on the side. Through my degree, Human Movement, you meet a lot of fit people that are doing other things. I met some people who were part of a running club. I ended up giving up hockey after two years and just joined this running club.
This running club was part of a triathlon club. They said, “you should come swim!” and I was like, “oh… nah.” In Tassie, not many people swim because it’s really cold! But it’s a cultural thing in Brisbane: a lot of people go swimming and the water is so warm most of the time. It’s really nice.
My really good friend and roommate fractured her sacrum, so she was swimming a lot. I saw her going and I felt a bit envious. It kind of looked nice and relaxing, and she was talking it up, so I was like, “maybe I’ll get into it.” So I started swimming and I could see the improvement. I was quite motivated.
So I’d been running and swimming. We were at coffee and they were like, “Given that you’ve done X and Y, why don’t you get a bike?” I was a uni student so for me, a bike seemed very expensive! I was like, I cannot afford that.
For my birthday, my parents bought me a bike. It was a Cannondale women’s frame. It was about $1,500 dollars, which I thought was so expensive back then. 105 gearing, just standard. Using that for triathlon, I had some bars I’d put on—no aero helmet or anything like that —just doing it as cheerfully as I could. I’d get top-10s, some podiums, but I never really won or anything like that.
Then I was getting into half-marathons. I was always more of a sprinter at school, so 100 metres, 200 metres and long jump, that was what I liked in athletics. I was training quite a bit with the long distance stuff. I ended up getting a lot of injuries and tenderness around my calves.
I was diagnosed with Achilles tendinopathy in my right Achilles, which is basically an overuse injury. One of the other tendons was rubbing against the Achilles. Achilles doesn’t like that; if something rubs against it, it’s like “no, no, no, no, no.” So I was told by my physio, a sports doctor and a podiatrist, who encouraged me to stop running as much.
But I wasn’t getting any pain while I was riding. So I gave up my running, which was a bit sad, because I really enjoyed that, and I just focused the bike. It was in about 2015 that I made that decision. So that’s how I got more into riding.
Are you working as an occupational therapist now?
I work part-time. I had been working full-time for four-and-a-half years. Then, after I moved to Sydney, I decided to drop down to part-time. I do three days of work a week. I focus on cycling on the side.
It’s good for my mental health, and my job was really hard to work full-time and be on the bike. I do love it, but it’s challenging to meet the demands of both because you do need to put in a lot of time on the bike.
How do you balance everything in your life?
I have a really supportive partner, number one. I absolutely couldn’t do it financially without him. So I’m really lucky to have him.
I have a coach who kind of understands how I work, so she kind of makes my training fit with my life as well.
Living in Sydney, I’m more removed now from my friendship group. I have my teammates who are amazing, but Sydney’s so big, you don’t get to see people very often. In Melbourne I had a very social life, more so than my cycling.
I’ve got a very supportive employer, so they’re very flexible. I do work specific days, but every now and again I have to change it up and there’s no concerns raised. I think that’s very important for anyone in the sport, because it is a demanding sport, and obviously in women’s cycling there isn’t much money (if any), so we do it for the love of it. So for people to understand and give us that flexibility—it goes a long way. We’re really appreciative of it.
What’s been the highlight of your cycling career so far?
There’s so many highlights. One of my biggest achievements was winning in B Grade at the Tour of Bright. That was the first time I was like, “Maybe this is a thing.” It was my second stage race and first in Victoria, and I felt like it was a serious race.
I won a lot of money, so it was kind of motivating and I was like, “Ooh! Cycling!”
Little did I know.
That was a highlight because it was such a challenging course. I had a 28 cassette with standard gears, and I got up Mount Hotham. Now I’ve got compact and that’s amazing, so I’m sure it’d be much nicer. That’s one highlight in my life and I just love that area. The alpine region in Victoria is somewhere I could ride for days, with good weather pending.
What about racing in America two years ago?
America was challenging because I was sick a few months leading up to it. I required some time off the bike. I think I’d crashed as well: my bike broke, I was borrowing a bike, my prep was absolutely terrible. I didn’t go to America feeling good, and I was not fit. It was a learning curve for me.
It was crits, and we’d just been during endurance stuff. I lasted seven minutes in my first crit in Washington. So that was a real experience. The next day I lasted 20 or 30 minutes and I thought that was amazing!
Then we went to the Tour of America’s Dairylands. There’s eleven races and I finished the first one. I thought, “Here we go, I’m back on.” And then the next race came. The next day was all these corners—left turns, right turns, all these turns—and it wasn’t the smooth surface I was used to, the tarmac, and I lasted two or three laps because the corners were too much. I was too scared; I wasn’t experienced.
Then the next day I finished, so it was up and down. I definitely grew. I found what my weaknesses were, I found my strengths and I took that on to my next tour in Canada. You just go from strength to strength and that’s what I love about the sport.
What’s your favourite race in Sydney?
I love West Head, I really do. I’m a punchy kind of rider. Don’t give me a long climb, it’s not my forte. I like West Head because it’s punchy enough. It can be aggressive type of racing.
I’m not too exposed to Sydney racing at this stage. Heffron I’m always at, but I haven’t done Lansdowne or Eastern Creek, so I’m excited to explore some different racing.
What are your cycling goals?
At this stage, this is all question marks over my head. I recently turned 30 and I got into the sport quite late. I know you can get into the sport late with women’s cycling. I’m wondering where my potential is for this sport.
I really want to go to Europe. I know it’s my next step. My coach has advised me of that. At the moment, I’m talking with people overseas to find out what’s happening. If it’s not Europe, it’ll be America back for some crits. It’ll be a different team compared to where I was in 2017. I hope to be more competitive and be amongst it. I’m definitely fitter compared to where I was in 2017.
I think every person in the sport wants to go to a world champs and Olympics, but the reality is we have quite a mountain of talent in Australia. So a world champs or Olympics, it’s really tough to be picked for that. I know some of the girls who race pro, and they’re super talented. I’d love to be in green and gold one day. That’s a dream, but how, or when?
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the cycling community?
With women’s racing, don’t be scared. It’s definitely intimidating at the start for women to get into it, but we’re so encouraging of having more women in the sport. You start C, then you move up, B and A.
We just want to make it a positive environment that gets people coming back. The more the merrier.
You can learn so much, even if you get dropped after half an hour or whatnot. I just reach out to all the women out there to get out and push yourself. Come and race, it’s really fun!