Petrarchan sonnet: Giant of Provence

From fragrant fields of lavender, a vast
Forbidding blade of blasted, sun-bleached stone
Rears like a thunderhead. It stands alone,
Inviting bold adventurers to cast
Their caution to its endless winds. Its past
Is littered with their shattered hopes; it’s shown
No mercy, done no favours, idly blown
Careers, looked on as legends breathed their last.
And come July, when hard-limbed men again
Face agonies of hunger, heat and thirst
Upon its slopes in search of victory,
How many will remember through the pain:
For all their training and technology,
It was a poet reached the summit first.


I consider myself still in training with the Petrarchan sonnet. For this workout, I picked the formidable climb of Mont Ventoux, the 6,000-foot mountain in southern France made famous by the Tour, and notorious by the amphetamine-stoked demise of British favourite Tom Simpson in 1967. But the ‘Giant of Provence’ seemed a doubly appropriate subject for this form: the first recorded ascent was made in 1336 by none other than Petrarch himself. He, of course, did it on foot: I’ve never attempted the climb, but I suspect I’d end up walking, too. N.

7 thoughts on “Petrarchan sonnet: Giant of Provence

    • They certainly do, although I’ve never had the chance to try it myself. It’s one of the hardest climbs in professional cycling: it’s 22km (almost 14 miles) long, and gains more than 5,000 feet in altitude at average gradient of 1-in-10. The last 10 miles are through what’s frequently referred to as a ‘moonscape’ of bare rock; it’s limestone, and so white the mountain appears snow-capped all year round. The heat is ferocious in summer, but it’s the wind that really makes it a beast: it blows at 50mph + on 240 days a year, and they’ve recorded gusts over 200mph at the summit! The Tour isn’t going there in 2014, but it’s always an incredible spectacle when it does. Sadly, most of the great ascents have been made (perhaps unsurprisingly) by convicted, suspected or self-confessed dopers (including Britain’s Tom Simpson, who died in the attempt) but the most recent stage winner, in 2013, was our own squeaky-clean Chris Froome, which helped to restore the balance! N.x ,

  1. Wow! I cant begin to imagine the level of skill and fitness involved. Its nice to think there are a few squeaky cleans around 😊

    Its starting in Leeds this year isnt it? Our son is coming over fom Ireland to witness this in his home city! 😊

    • Yes indeed, Yorkshire will be en fete for the ‘Grand Depart’ – we’re hoping to see it in Harrogate, where two of my wife’s aunts are thoughtful enough to live! When it came to London in 2007, I was an extra in the promotional video…on the extreme left of shot, for about two frames. But even if you can’t see me, I know I was there – and that I rode those 40-odd laps of the Inner Circle in Regents Park while they filmed it! I also rode the route of Stage 1 from London to Canterbury in a big amateur event, and came 251st out of 4,000. It was chastening to watch the pros ride the same route a week or so later, in barely half the time I’d taken. In fact, their AVERAGE speed for the stage as about the same as the fastest speed I clocked going downhill!! N.x

  2. 250 out of 4000 is very impressive!

    The two presenters of our local TV news, Look North, cycled the route they are taking in Yorkshire last week. They rode a tandem bike! They did it for Sport Relief and raised about £30,000 but it took them 8 days!! Andcthey were totally wiped out! 😊

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.