TASTE OF THE TOUR: Godly beer and divine meatballs in Liege

BY AP • July 1, 2017

From Germany, the Tour de France heads to Belgium, land of mussels and fries - and a whole lot more.

Sunday's Stage 2 concludes in Liege, where dishes are mostly meat-based, rather than drawn from the sea.

Here is a gastronomic, sporting and cultural guide to the mostly flat 203.5-kilometer (126-mile) leg likely to end with a mass sprint.

REGION: From Duesseldorf, where wurst-sellers enjoyed roaring trade on a rain-hit Stage 1, the race veers southwest through Moenchengladbach and the border city of Aachen before crossing into Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region.

With a history of battles and rebellions, Liege is nicknamed ''la cite ardente,'' the city of fire.

APERITIF: While Liege-based Jupiler is Belgium's biggest-selling beer, Val-Dieu Blonde has more character. The great thirst-quencher is brewed in the Val-Dieu Abbey about a half-hour outside of the city.

According to local legend, the uninhabited valley where the monks founded the abbey in 1216 was so hostile that locals called it ''the valley of the devil.'' The monks renamed it ''Val-Dieu'' (Valley of God), which later became the name of the abbey.

PLAT DU JOUR: Meatballs, ''Boulets a la liegeoise,'' are Liege's best-known dish. Usually made with ground pork and beef then fried, they're topped with a sauce that includes onions and sirop de Liege, apple and pear syrup. Best accompanied by ''frites,'' French fries.

A guild bestows a crystal ball to the area restaurant which makes the best meatballs. Last year's winner was the brasserie-restaurant Rive Droite in Chaudfontaine, near Liege.

CULTURE: Liege is known for its festivals, namely the ''Le Quinze Aout'' celebration on Aug. 15, which involves a religious procession, folk displays, dancing and concerts.

For more modern tastes, there is Les Ardentes, an annual electro-rock music festival in July.

HISTORY: Hosting a Tour stage for the 11th time, Liege is better known in cycling circles as the start and finish for the single-day spring classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde of the Movistar team won in April, his fourth victory in the event. But he crashed out of this Tour on day one, on a rain-slickened bend.

STAT OF THE DAY: 2 - the number of riders who crashed out of the race in Stage 1, including Valverde.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''We could go to Paris now. It's not that far away, is it? Why not go straight there?'' - Stage 1 winner Geraint Thomas, the first wearer of the yellow jersey this year.

DIGESTIF: To burn off those meatballs try scaling the Montagne de Bueren, a 374-step staircase in Liege. It's named after Vincent de Bueren, who defended the city against an attack by the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, in the 15th century. With a gradient of nearly 30 percent, the staircase was built in 1881 to honor the 600 soldiers who died in the battle.

NEXT ORDER: The Tour remains in Belgium for the start of Stage 3 on Monday, a 212.5-kilometer (132-mile) leg from Verviers to Longwy, France, that passes through Luxembourg. The rolling leg features three fourth-category climbs and two third-category climbs, including one at the finish. It should set up well for punchy riders like Verviers native Philippe Gilbert.

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