Italy's Giovanni Visconti celebrates on the podium after winning the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier gave Giovanni Visconti the victory in a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Italy’s Giovanni Visconti celebrates on the podium after winning the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier gave Giovanni Visconti the victory in a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

COL DU GALIBIER, France (Reuters) – Italian Vincenzo Nibali successfully contained his rivals’ attacks on the Giro d’Italia’s toughest high mountain stages on Sunday to take a big step towards overall victory.

Nibali finished seventh in the stage, won by compatriot Giovanni Visconti, to retain the overall lead one minute 26 secones ahead of Australia’s Cadel Evans. Colombian Rigoberto Uran is third.

Nibali’s Astana squad kept the main pack under control on the first two climbs then, as the snow began falling on the Galibier and several of Nibali’s rivals tried attacking, the race leader chased them down in person.

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali celebrates on the podium at the end of the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier gave Giovanni Visconti the victory in a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. (AP Photo/Gian Mattia D'Alberto)

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali celebrates on the podium at the end of the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier gave Giovanni Visconti the victory in a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. (AP Photo/Gian Mattia D’Alberto)

Six stages remain following Monday’s second rest day, including three in the mountains and Nibali recognised he had taken a big step forward with such a strong defence of his leader’s pink jersey on a day where freezing temperatures and snow had made for a harsh day’s racing.

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, center, pedals during the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galibier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, center, pedals during the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galibier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

“I wanted to squeeze out some more time on my rivals, and tried accelerating away from them at the end but, even if that didn’t work, I’m still very pleased with how things stand overall,” the 28-year-old Sicilian, who won the Vuelta a Espana in 2010, told reporters.

Cyclists start the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Daniele Bottallo)

Cyclists start the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Daniele Bottallo)

Cyclists pedal during the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Cyclists pedal during the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

“Today was a good day, I’ve got a good advantage on my rivals.”

With the stage dedicated to Italian cycling champion Marco Pantani, who forged his 1998 Tour de France victory with an attack on the Galibier, Nibali said he had wanted to put on a good performance “to honour one of the greatest riders.”

“It was only right to go for it today, even if the cold didn’t help matters because it made it really hard to go on the attack. The weather conditions really influenced the way the stage played out today,” he said.

Movistar rider Visconti managed to fend off the main pack to claim his first Grand Tour stage win at the age of 30.

Three times an Italian national champion, the Sicilian attacked with six other riders on the descent of the stage’s first big climb, the Mont Cenis, then went clear alone with 25 kms to go.

Cyclists pedal during the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Cyclists pedal during the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Cesana to Col Du Galbier, Italy, Sunday, May 19, 2013. A superb solo ride up the grueling Col du Galibier enbaled Giovanni Visconti to win a weather-affected 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia Sunday, while favorite Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead. Atrocious weather conditions once again altered the race course and heavy snow fell at the finish as Visconti won in a time of 4 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds, beating Carlos Betancur and Przemyslaw Niemiec by 42 seconds. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Carlos Alberto Betancur of Colombia bounded out of the group of favourites to finish second with Przemyslaw Niemic of Poland in third place.

“I hope it marks the point where I can restart my career again and get things back on track,” Visconti said.

Racing resumes on Tuesday with a 238 kms hilly stage from Valloire in France to Ivrea in Italy.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)