Under-23 champion James Fouche yesterday became the first recipient of a special trophy linking today's cyclists with members of the New Zealand Cycling Corps who fought and died in World War I in a place now famous in world cycling.
The trophy, produced from a cobblestone uplifted from the famed Kemmelberg and set in wood from the trenches of Flanders field, honours the 700 members of the NZCC who served on the Western Front during the 1914-18 Great War.
The little-known NZCC sustained their heaviest losses at the Battle of Kemmelberg in Belgium in 1918, with the cobbled hill now an iconic climb in the Gent-Wevelgem World Tour race which is based in Flanders Fields and passes the likes of Ypres, Messines, Menin Gate and the Kemmelberg.
The race organiser, together with the local town and the New Zealand Embassies in Brussels and Paris, produced the trophy for Cycling New Zealand.
The trophy was the initiative of New Zealand diplomat Roger Duncan, based at the Paris embassy.
"I was wondering if there was anything bike related and came across this New Zealand Cycling Corp and that sparked a chain of things," Duncan said last year. "We wanted to create a living memorial to remember this, I knew cyclists back home would be keen on it and it cements the links between New Zealand and this part of Belgium and France."
The trophy for the Paris Roubaix race, one of the monuments of road cycling, is a cobble and this follows that tradition.
"Cobblestones define racing in this part of the world and New Zealand cyclists fought and died on this road, up the Kemmelberg," Duncan said.
"So I got in touch with the race organisers of the Gent Wevelgem and they were extremely committed."
A New Zealand under-23 team will compete at the Gent-Wevelgem race next year, which will incorporate the centenary commemoration of the Battle of Kemmelberg.
"Our under-23 riders compete alongside our elites at the national championships, and for them it is an important race not just for the titles at stake, but also to press their claims," said Cycling New Zealand's athlete development manager, Graeme Hunn.
"We have arguably our strongest group of under-23 riders, both female and male, who have been producing outstanding form on the roads of Europe and around the globe, as well as on the track," Hunn said.
"Added to that will be the motivation to be the first person to win this very moving trophy.
"[The trophy] is a pertinent link to our past and the very strong bond that exists between the people of Belgium and New Zealand, and carries on today through cycling."