For die-hard fans in cycling-mad Belgium, only one thing beats watching the Tour de France: Watching cycling's greatest race while also munching on fries slathered in mayo.
And don't make the mistake of calling them "French fries."
Because in Belgium, the country that gifted the great Eddy Merckx to cycling and where the race starts on Saturday, chopping potatoes into slivers and deep-frying them in fat is practically an art. Woe to those who favor those floury, flavorless, frozen fast-food toothpicks masquerading as fries.
The real things, for Belgian aficionados, are made from fresh potatoes only, double-cooked in beef drippings, and are worth less than Lance Armstrong's seven doping-fueled Tour victories if they don't crackle and crunch between the teeth.
"A good fry must, successively, swim, sing and jump," Belgium's National Union of Fry-makers — yes, there is such an organization —
says on its website .
Not that the riders themselves will notice. Watching their diets to keep their weight down and energy levels up, and focused on surviving the grueling three-week haul through Belgium and France, they're about to miss out on the rolling gastronomic and cultural feast that is the Tour, as the race barrels through regions heaving with edibles of all kinds.
There'll be quiches, pates, cakes and snails in the east of France; cheeses, hams and chestnuts in the Massif Central mountains in the middle; bean stews, sausages and yet more cheeses in the south; and don't forget to leave room in the Alps for — yup, you guessed it — more cheese, plus other mountain delicacies.
Oh, and did we mention the beers and wines? Stage 3 on Monday will see the Tour roll into Epernay in French Champagne country. Cheers!
So stick with us at The Associated Press, for the full Taste of the Tour experience. Every day, we'll bring you a slice of everything that's worth eating, drinking and seeing along the way, all washed down with updates on how the race is playing out. It should be informative, visual, fun ... and make you hungry. We'll break the race down into easily digestible chunks, with the bread-and-butter of what's coming up on the road, choice morsels from riders, and juicy stats.
Now, back to fries.
Brussels visitors Eliane Paulet and Michel Jacquinet made a beeline for fry shop Fritland, joining the line to buy two heavy cornets of fresh fries, after a joyous ceremony in the city's Grand Square on Thursday night that feted five-time Tour winner Merckx and introduced the Tour teams.
She covered her fries with a gooey, spicy "Samurai" sauce; he went for more traditional mayonnaise. Inside, cooks furiously scooped the potato wedges into bubbling fat for a first fry, took them out, cooled them off, and then fried them again for crunch.
Paulet said the secret of good fries is "good oil, beef grease." She treats herself to a cornet once a month.
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Stage 1 is unusually long for a Tour start, at 194.5 kilometers (121 miles). The big loop south of Brussels will zoom through Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, the suburb where Merckx's parents ran a grocery store and where he grew up, dreaming of bike racing. This Tour marks the 50th anniversary of Merckx's first victory in 1969. The finish is likely to be a nervy, mass sprint by the entire peloton of riders, which could be hazardous because of a succession of three sharp bends in the final 5 kilometers (3 miles). QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't feel I've got to prove anything. Even though some people have said, you know, about being a 'one-hit wonder' and stuff. (It was) a pretty good hit to have." — 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas, explaining Friday that he doesn't feel huge pressure to defend his title. STAT OF THE DAY: 56. That's the number of Belgian riders who have worn the iconic "maillot jaune", the canary-yellow jersey borne by the race leader, since it was first introduced 100 years ago, at the 13th Tour in 1919.