Yates arrived in Italy full of confidence after winning the Tour of the Alps but now finds himself 4 minutes and 20 seconds off the maglia rosa with five stages remaining.
Bernal (Team Ineos Grenadiers) has built a commanding lead at the Grand Tour, performing at a level so impressive he even had time to remove his jacket and celebrate as he crossed the line victorious in stage 16.
The Colombian’s dominance does not look close to diminishing, according to Yates, who labelled the 24-year-old “head and shoulders above everybody at the moment”.
“The win is going to be very difficult. It would need something very special and very unexpected to happen for me to win, I think,” Yates said.
“If that chance does arrive, I’ll try to take it, but it would be very surprising.
“He’s obviously shown on every occasion that he’s the best here… it’s difficult to see him lose his grip on GC now.”
Yates, meanwhile, still has his eye on a podium finish, with the Briton currently 40 seconds behind compatriot Hugh Carthy (EF Education – Nippo) in third place.
The 28-year-old finished 11th in the stage race from Sacile to Cortina d’Ampezzo and vowed to be at his best for stage 17 – the first of three summit finishes that populate the final week.
WATCH Stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia LIVE, FREE and in HD from 7:50pm (AEST) via SBS On Demand and 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND tonight.