Sunday, 1 July 2012

STAGE 1: LIÈGE - SERAING

The first road stage, 198 km, is from Liège to Seraing, a Walloon municipality in the province of Liège. Liège is a significant place-name in cycling for it is the start of one of the greatest and oldest "Classics", the Liège-Bastogne-Liège one day race.

Stages such as this favour the “Puncheurs” (strong cyclists with explosive speed which they use on short, but steep gradients with sudden attacks), and make for exciting viewing as the riders are fresh and full of energy. The opening stages of Le Tour are always anxious: nervous fingers twitching on brake levers, and lots of psychological argy-bargy as the riders start to settle in for three weeks of racing. These early stages are often marred by accidents, usually near the end of the race.

Everyone knows that aside from mussels and frites, and beer, Belgian's most iconic food is the waffle (gaufre). Waffles are made from a leavened batter rather like brioche, and are cooked in a waffle iron. They have been made in Belgium since the Middle Ages. Liege waffles have distinctive crinkly edges and a denser, more chewy texture than their Brussels copains. They contain nuggets of pearl sugar which caramelise throughout the waffle due to its high melting point, and give the waffles their unique sweet flavour and texture. You can buy waffles all over Belgium; they are best eaten hot from a street vendor. They are often served with fruit and a dollop of whipped cream, or with ice-cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce.



The café/boulangerie chain Le Pain Quotidien (branches around London) does a pretty good Liège waffle (with toppings), and you can generally find them in more upmarket supermarkets. Don't be tempted to buy those flabby square waffles that come in a stack of six - they just aren't the same (though they do toast quite well!)

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