This weekend 10,000 cyclists from across the USA will roll into Wichita Falls, Texas for the 40th Annual Hotter’N Hell Hundred gran fondo, but health officials are concerned about hosting a mass-participation event of this magnitude in the midst of rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.

The event will be the largest amateur cycling event in the world since the pandemic started in early 2020 and the organiser has not mandated any COVID safety measures at the event, including mask wearing, social distancing, COVID testing or proof of vaccination.  

Texas reported 18,826 new COVID Delta cases on Wednesday and more than 13,928 people are hospitalized due to the virus. Now, only 306 ICU beds are currently available in a state of 30 million people.

Those statistics do not concern event Executive Director, Chip Filer who said, “I think the only people that are worried about it being a big spreader event are the news media.”

Whichita Falls Public Health District Director Lou Kreidler is worried, very worried.

“I’m extremely concerned about, what, bringing over 6,000 riders, all of those individuals and who comes with them into our community,” Kreidler said.

While much of the event is outdoors, there are still high risk indoor activities like rider packet pick up, pre-ride spaghetti dinner and a huge 100 vendor trade show that could become COVID hot spots, especially with the highly contagious Delta variant.

“The entire event is high risk,” Kreidler added, “We just need to be cognizant that we’re in the middle of a spike of [COVID] numbers, our hospital beds are full, our ICU is full and hospitals across the state are full.”

The small sun-baked ranch town of Whichita Falls relies on Hotter ‘N” Hell to generate $6 million to $8 million of economic impact each year.  After reluctantly cancelling the event in 2020 due to the pandemic, the city saw a devastating loss of sales tax revenue which it has not recovered. 

Executive Director Filer is determined not to repeat that outcome in 2021, “I think last year when we had to go 100 percent virtual I think that hurt the community,” he said.

The Hotter ‘N’ Hell Hundred is known worldwide as one of the toughest 100-mile summer gran fondos, with temperatures typically reaching 100 degrees or more during the event.  This year’s forecast is 74 degrees at the start with mid-day highs of a “cool” 92 degrees. 

PHOTOS: HHH

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