Thibaut Pinot says pink jersey Simon Yates is “untouchable” as Giro heads into final gauntlet of mountain stages.

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TRENTO, Italy (VN) — Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) said pink jersey Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is “untouchable” in the mountains in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

The French climber, fourth in the 2017 Giro, said the British rider is climbing stronger than Nairo Quintana in last year’s edition of the corsa rosa.

“The level is higher than last year,” Pinot said on the rest day. “There are riders who are stronger, like Pozzovivo. Yates is stronger than Quintana was last year in the mountains.”

“When he attacked the second time [Sunday], I just stayed where I was. No one dared follow,” Pinot continued. “He’s untouchable. If Yates keeps going like he does, it’s impossible [to beat him]. Everyone knows that. But until the race is over, you never know.”

Pinot’s comments echoed the mood across the peloton. Dumoulin and Chris Froome (Sky) also all but admitted that this Giro is Yates’s to lose.

“The Giro is a different race. Everyone knows the situation can change very quickly,” said Pinot, who won the Tour of the Alps in April. “The last stages are very hard, with longer climbs. Until Saturday evening, everything is possible.

“The final climbs [stages 19 and 20] are real ‘Alpine’ climbs,” Pinot continued. “We will see a big battle at Prato Nevoso, but those back-to-back mountain stages will decide everything.”

Pinot was not happy Tuesday, stopping the clock in 66th at 3:19 behind stage-winner Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) in the time trial. He gave up nearly one minute to direct podium rival Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and slipped from fourth to fifth, now at 4:19 back. Chris Froome (Sky) slipped up to fourth, now 3:50 back.

“I’ve been consistent, without a bad day,” Pinot continued. “I would prefer to be better. I was sixth at Zoncolan, and sixth [Sunday]. That’s not good enough.”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report