• Yob Hillewaert

Sente Sentjens (16) wants to be more than a sprinter: “Wout van Aert’s versatility inspires me”

Sente Sentjens started his 2022 season the same way as he did in 2021. With a solo victory. Only, this time he pulled the trick against an international junior peloton, and not against an U17 only Belgian startline. “I had faith in my sprint, but I really didn’t want the peloton to come back.”

Sente Sentjens is known for his good sprint, but also has a strong engine - Copyright: The Young Peloton

The Belgian first year junior Sente Sentjens is following the path of Remco Evenepoel and Cian Uijtdebroeks. Two weeks ago, he won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne U19 for the same team as the former two riders: Acrog-Tormans Balen bc. We talked to him after his promising debut in the junior ranks.

Your dad Sente Sentjens has won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in the pro ranks. Was that an extra motivation to do well here?

“Not really. But I did start my preparation in winter having in mind that I wanted to do well from the start of the season. I wanted to win a race at the start of the season, but I didn’t expect to win here. It still has to sink in that I won, to be honest. It was also my first race in the junior category, so that makes the way I won extra special.”

Your final breakaway group got away from the peloton after all the official hills were already finished.

“That’s right. There was still a big group of riders left in the peloton at this point, and ahead of the peloton were four riders who had made a move. On the last section of cobblestones (Beerbosstraat, ed.), I took the lead in the peloton. The road went a bit uphill there. At the top of this climb I looked behind and I seemed to have a gap on the rest of the peloton. At this point I had come really close to the four leaders and soon I succeeded in closing the gap. Afterwards, a few other riders joined our group. In the last local lap, I could ride away from the group and finished solo.”

Why did you decide to attack? You are also known for your good sprint.

“The cooperation in our group wasn’t good anymore. I had the feeling the peloton would be able to bridge the gap and I didn’t risk that. It’s true that I had faith in my sprint, but I had already spent a lot of energy. So if the peloton would have come back, I don’t think I would have won the group sprint. That’s why I chose to go solo.”

Are you a true classics rider then? You have shown here that you are more than only a sprinter.

“I think so, yes. It’s still early to say that of course, but this year I will find out more and more what my specialties are.”

Sente Sentjens won the typical donkey, the symbol of Kuurne - Copyright: The Young Peloton

You started the season the same way as last year as an U17, with a solo victory. You seemed to struggle a bit after that early win last season, while from August onwards you returned to winning. What is the story there?

“Last year, in the first part of the season I didn’t really succeed in competing for victories. I was a in a mental struggle. I wasn’t feeling confident and didn’t feel like I had it in me to win races. Before August though, I made the click when I read a book about sports psychology. I found a lot of useful tips in the book so I could work on getting myself through these moments of low confidence. Now, when there is a day that I don’t feel like training, I know these are the days where by pushing through, I can become mentally stronger. I stay more calm now, where in the past I used to stress out. Now I feel confident that in the end everything will always be okay. Having that in mind, in the second part of the season everything went better and better.”

Your stepdad is ex-pro Jelle Vanendert, who famously won a Tour de France stage on Plateau de Beille in 2011. He also is your coach. How tight is your relationship?

“I actually see him as my dad, but maybe even more as a good friend. We live in the same house and we have a really good click. I’m really happy that we seem to match so well. He helps me with everything I need to know about cycling. For example, he has started teaching me a little bit about food. It’s awesome to have someone with so much expertise so close in the family.”

When you were 14 years old, you pushed yourself to a really good time on the Stelvio (24 km – 7.6% average gradient, ed.). You finished in 1 hour, 23 minutes and 30 seconds even though you’re not one of the lightest riders. Are you inspired by Wout van Aert, a similar rider who is also climbing well?

“That was one and a half year ago in summer. Jelle had been on a training camp there and I also came over and took my bike with me. On one day I climbed the Stelvio as fast as I could and I was happy to get a pretty good time. Wout van Aert is definitely the rider I look up to most, because he can win in so many different ways. I think it’s very inspiring how a big sprinter and time triallist like him managed to win the Tour-stage over the Mont Ventoux. It’s only from this year onwards that I will ride on a time trial bike, but normally it should also be something I could be able to do well. The watts are there, but I do have to work on my position on the bike.”

Teammate Niels Driesen’s attack didn’t hold to the finish: “I prefer the longer climbs”

Sente Sentjens was not the only Acrog-Tormans rider who showed himself in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. His first year junior teammate Niels Driesen went into some attacks but ultimately didn’t get away from the pack until the finish. Driesen is a very promising climber who last year won the Belgian title in his second year of the U17 category.

Niels Driesen (right) had his family coming over from the Belgian province Limburg - Copyright: The Young Peloton

As a light climber, this isn’t the typical terrain for you. It was also only your first junior race. With what mindset did you go into this race?

“It was my objective to stay in the front with the better riders of the peloton. On the Kluisberg (the last categorised climb of the race, ed.), Sente Sentjens attacked and Frank Ragilo and another rider followed his attack. Twenty metres behind them I reached the top of the hill. With two French riders I closed the gap. In total, we managed to get into a breakaway with fourteen riders. There was a good organisation in our group so I hoped we would stay away, but the peloton reeled us back in. After that attack, I felt that my best legs were gone and stayed in the peloton.”

Your specialty actually isn’t the Flemish classics, is that right?

“Yes, I prefer longer climbs. That is my strongest point. This summer and a bit before summer, I want to be in a really good shape because that is the period with most of the tough stage races. I’m usually also in my best shape in the summer holidays, because during the year I’m busy with school, where I study electromechanics.”

What are your ambitions in the summer stage races?

“Well, first of all I want to give them a go with the team. If I do well there this year, in my second year as a junior I would like to compete for the victory.”

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