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Sonoma County cyclist, 23, collapses and dies on steep ride

A well-known Sonoma County cyclist died on his 23rd birthday Friday after collapsing during a ride up a steep hill outside Santa Rosa.

Matt Wilson of Camp Meeker was climbing Los Alamos Road with another rider at about 12:30p.m. when he complained he wasn't feeling well, got off his bike at the summit and collapsed.

His riding partner, Henry Stroud, 27, of Sebastopol, said the two had crested the hill and were returning over the top when it happened.

"We were going slow in the lowest gear, talking all the time," Stroud said. "It took me by surprise."

Stroud said he started CPR after Wilson drifted in and out of consciousness twice. Then he called 911 on his cellphone.

Firefighters arrived and Wilson was flown by helicopter to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Word of his death spread quickly through the close-knit cycling community. Wilson was known as a member of the Red Peleton racing team and the Santa Rosa Cycling Club.

He had completed the grueling Terrible Two 200-mile bike ride five times and finished the 103-mile GranFondo earlier this month.

"He was a very strong rider," said friend and Red Peleton teammate Shaun Ralston, who rushed to the hospital when he heard about Wilson. "He just collapsed. Sometimes these things happen."

Just what caused him to fall on the hill — a favorite training run for Santa Rosa professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer — was not immediately known.

Santa Rosa Fire Capt. Matt Gloeckner said units responded to a report of a rider down and arrived to find Stroud trying to revive him.

Paramedics took over with advanced life-support techniques until a REACH helicopter arrived about 25 minutes later, Gloeckner said.

Stroud said he and Wilson set out with three other riders from Howarth Park at about 9a.m. They were riding slower, "October appropriate" speeds because racing is over for the season, he said.

The five men rode to Glen Ellen, over Sonoma Mountain Road and returned on Highway12.

Wilson and Stroud split from the group to ride Los Alamos Road.

They crossed the summit into Hood Mountain Regional Park and were returning when Wilson was stricken, Stroud said.

"He just pulled over to the side of the road ... and passed out," Stroud said.

Wilson lived alone in Camp Meeker and was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College, studying engineering and Spanish. He grew up in west Sonoma County and went to El Molino High.

He worked at a religious retreat in Camp Meeker, Ralston said.

Jim Keene, co-owner of NorCal Bike Sport and the Bike Peddler, said Wilson was among the young road racers who frequented his shops.

He said Wilson volunteered with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and was a regular at cycling events.

"You could tell he was a kid who really loved riding his bicycle," Keene said. "It's tragic the way it ended up for him. So many people are going to be so sad."

Well-wishers posted comments on Facebook and the Santa Rosa Cycling Club had a note about his death on its Web site.

"Matt was a terrific, compassionate, tender young man," Jonathan Lee said on Facebook. "We were so proud of him as a teammate and as a community member of the highest worth!"

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 483-4874 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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